A new study by Cancer Council NSW has found that rates of anal cancer have significantly increased in both men and women in high-income countries, including Australia, since the late 1980s, particularly in those aged under 60. Researchers say it’s likely that this increase can be attributed to changing sexual behaviours and increasing levels of exposure to Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common, sexually transmitted infection.
The study compared anal cancer rates from 1988-1992 and 2008-2012 across seven countries – Australia, Canada, the USA, Denmark, France, The Netherlands, and the UK.
“We found that over that timeframe, anal cancer rates across all ages had risen by 35% in men and by 75% in women. However, increases were highest in those aged under 60, with rates up 134% in men and 176% in women”
“It’s likely this rise is due to increased exposure to HPV, which reinforces the importance of vaccination. The HPV vaccine is free to Australian girls and boys in their first year of high school through the National HPV Vaccination Program.”
The study builds on earlier research from Cancer Council NSW, which highlighted an increase in vulvar cancer rates in women in Australia, and some other developed countries. This was also attributed to increased exposure to HPV.
“We recommend that parents have their children vaccinated when their 12-13 year-olds are offered the HPV vaccine. It protects against around 80% of anal cancers, and of course also against a range of other HPV-related cancers, including about 60% of oropharyngeal cancers. The next generation HPV vaccine now being offered in schools also reduces the lifetime risk of cervical cancer by 90% in young vaccinated girls,” Professor Canfell added.
Around 430 people are diagnosed with anal cancer in Australia every year. The risk of anal cancer is increased among men with a history of receptive anal intercourse, women with a history of cervical or vulvar cancer, and people with immune deficiency, including those who are infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and organ transplantation recipients.
“In its early stages, anal cancer often has no obvious symptoms. However, we encourage people to visit their GP if they experience blood or mucus in stools or any itching, pain, lumps or ulcers around the anus,” Professor Canfell concluded.