Sandra deQuant will never forget her 49th birthday: the following day, she was told she had anal cancer. "I was in a state of shock," remembers deQuant. "I didn't know what to expect and had never heard of anal cancer before."
Although rare, anal cancer is becoming more prevalent in the United States and many other developing countries. The condition develops in the tissues of the anus, which is a short tube that connects the lower part of the large intestine, known as the rectum, to the outside of the body. The anus allows the controlled disposal of body waste during bowel movements. This type of cancer, like cancer of the cervix, is caused by exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV).
Although deQuant was not considered at particular risk for anal cancer, she does have a family history of gastrointestinal cancer. Esophageal cancer claimed the life of her younger brother in 1992 and her other brother was later diagnosed with the disease.
DeQuant visited her doctor at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco to be tested for esophageal cancer. At the time, her only abnormal symptom was rectal bleeding, which she passed off as a hemorrhoid. However, after undergoing a sigmoidoscopy -- an internal exam of the colon and rectum -- deQuant's doctor noticed an abnormality at the end of her anal canal. The next day, she received a diagnosis of anal cancer.
Read more at Abby Sinnott, UCSF Medical Center