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What Can I Do If I'm At Risk for Anal Cancer?

Mar 12, 2014

There is no way to completely prevent anal cancer. The best way to reduce your risk for this cancer is to avoid human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Not having anal sex is the best way to prevent HPV infection. Condoms can prevent you from getting or giving HIV to your sexual partner, but they do not totally protect against HPV. That is because this virus can be spread by skin contact from areas that are not covered by the condom. And HPV can be present for years without causing symptoms.

Vaccines that greatly lower the risk of HPV infection are now available. These vaccines may reduce a person's risk of anal cancer, but they are only effective if they are given before someone is infected with HPV.

Certain groups considered to be at high risk for anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN) should discuss having an anal Pap test done (similar to the Pap test used to detect cervical cancer). AIN is a precancerous condition which may lead to anal cancer. Those at high risk for AIN include HIV-positive people, men who have sex with men, women with a history of cervical or vulvar cancer, and transplant recipients. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (also called HAART) can be used to lower the risk for anal intraepithelial neoplasia, a kind of anal precancer. This therapy can also cut the risk for HPV infection in people with HIV. 

If you stop smoking, you lower your risk for anal cancer and many other types of cancer.

For some people, a weakened immune system is a side effect of treatment for some other diseases and may go away when the treatment stops. A weakened immune system raises a person's risk of anal cancer, so having a healthy immune system may lower this risk. 

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