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Detailed Guide: Anal Cancer
What Are the Risk Factors for Anal Cancer?

A risk factor is anything that affects a person's chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposure to strong sunlight is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor for cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx (voice box), bladder, kidney, colon, anus, and several other organs. But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: Most squamous cell anal cancers seem to be linked to infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus thought to cause cervical cancer. There are several subtypes of the virus, but the one most likely to cause anal cancer is called HPV-16. This virus is most often spread by sexual contact and is more likely to be found in people who have had many sex partners. Different subtypes of HPV can cause genital warts (condylomas), but most people infected with HPV do not have genital warts.

Sexual activity: Having multiple sex partners is a risk factor. Another risk factor is anal intercourse for both men and women, particularly younger than the age of 30.

Smoking: Smoking also increases the risk of anal cancer. Current smokers are several times more likely to have cancer of the anus compared with people who do not smoke. Quitting smoking will reduce the risk. People who used to smoke but have quit are only slightly more likely to develop this cancer compared with people who never smoked.

Lowered immunity/HIV infection: Higher rates of anal cancer occur among people with reduced immunity, such as people who have had an organ transplant and must take medicines that suppress their immune system. Another important risk factor is infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. But effective drug treatment for HIV hasn't lowered the anal cancer rate in people infected with HIV.

Revised: 04/25/2007
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