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Anal Cancer; What you need to know

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and colorectal is one of the more common cancers on people's radars. But the rectum is the lower part of the colon, and the anus is between the rectum and the skin of the buttocks, so it's just as important to know about anal cancer as part of spreading awareness.

Dr. Diana Bitner, a nationally recognized menopause specialist from Spectrum Health, says it's rare for women to be affected by anal cancer, but that doesn't mean they're immune to the disease. Last year 5,530 women were diagnosed, compared to 2,770 men.

Risk factors for anal cancer include being positive for HPV; 80-90% of all anal cancers are positive for HPV. Other risk factors include smoking cigarettes, prior pre-cancer or cancer of the cervix, vaginal or vulva, or having a suppressed immune system such as with transplant, chemotherapy for other cancer, or HIV.

Symptoms of anal cancer include rectal itching, pressure, change in bowel movement, bright red blood in the stool, mass coming out of the rectum, and pain.

This cancer can be prevented many women by getting the HPV vaccine, and because of the many young people who have been vaccinated, the rates are expected to go down in the future.

Many doctors still recommend annual pelvic exams and check-ups to be aware of risk factors, so get checkups and ask questions. Expect a rectal exam and if not, demand if any risk factors or symptoms

Dr. Bitner's office is located at 3800 Lake Michigan Drive Northwest, Suite A. To schedule an appointment with her, call (616)-267-8225.

Read more stories like this on Dr. Bitner's Blog.

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