Understanding Anal Cancer: Explore Your Options

If you’ve been diagnosed with anal cancer, it’s important to explore all options related to anal cancer treatment. Below, learn what’s next, what questions to ask the doctor, and what treatments are available.

Finding an Oncologist

The first step on the anal cancer treatment journey is to find an oncologist (medical or surgical) who inspires trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician, specialist, or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.  

Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:

  • Is the oncologist board certified?
  • How much experience does he or she have in treating anal cancer?
  • Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
  • Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
  • What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
  • What are the office hours?
  • What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
  • Can this doctor be contacted after hours?

You will be spending a lot of time with the oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them. 

As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:

  • What are the chances my cancer will come back after this treatment?
  • What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Will there be scars? 

Choosing a Cancer Center

Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. It’s good to know the differences between hospitals.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Academic cancer centers: These are affiliated with medical schools. At these locations, high priority is put on research. They are usually located in large cities.
  • Community cancer centers: The main focus is on patient care. 
  • Cancer centers: These are noted for a high quality of science and research.

Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:

  • Volume: How many surgeries does the surgeon do annually?
  • Travel: How far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
  • Cost: Is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
  • Accreditations: What accreditations does the hospital hold? 

Treatment Options

It’s helpful to understand the possible treatments for anal cancer. Following are overviews of the most common treatments. Reading these should help you know what to expect, what the potential side effects are, and what the advantages are to each.

Treatment plans vary for each person with anal cancer. Treatment depends on:

  • where the tumor is
  • what type of tumor it is
  • what stage it is
  • your general health and age

Your doctor will make recommendations and together you and your doctor will come up with a treatment plan.

There are 3 main types of treatment:

In the past, surgery was the only treatment option for anal cancer. Now, most people with anal cancer are treated with both chemotherapy and radiation. This treatment approach is often called chemoradiotherapy.

Of course, the first goal is always to cure the cancer. If that is not possible, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan that will keep the cancer from spreading. Another goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and pain.

Specific Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Will you please write down the type of anal cancer I have?
  • Has my cancer spread beyond the anus?
  • What is the stage of my cancer and what does that mean in my case?
  • What treatment choices do I have?
  • What treatment do you recommend and why?
  • What are the risks or side effects of the treatment?
  • How long will it take me to recover from treatment?
  • Will I need a colostomy?
  • Will treatment interfere with normal bowel movements?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • How soon after treatment starts will we know if it's working?
  • When can I go back to work after treatment?
  • When can I have sex and do other normal activities?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • What are the chances that my cancer will come back after treatment?
  • Based on my cancer as you see it, what is my outlook?
  • Should I get a second opinion?

Back to “Understanding Anal Cancer: An Introduction”