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Anal cancer is relatively uncommon compared to other cancers. There are generally no symptoms in its earliest stages, which is why screening is so important, especially for those at risk.
Screening is vital in preventing HPV-associated cancers. HPV slowly causes abnormal changes (mutations) in cells. These abnormal cells can eventually turn into cancer; therefore screening for precancerous cells can help prevent the progression from precancerous to cancer. HPV can cause abnormal cell changes that lead to cancer in multiple locations including the anus, cervix, vagina, vulva, penis and head and neck. The only one of these locations that is screened routinely is the cervix, using the Pap smears. Currently, there is no routine testing or testing protocol for HPV in men.
In the United States, men and women are not routinely screened for anal cancer. Screening for anal cancer may involve digital anal rectal exams (DAREs), anal pap smears, anoscopies or high-resolution anoscopies (HRA). HRA uses a high resolution magnifying instrument to identify abnormal cells (similar to a colposcopy used to identify cervical abnormalities.
If you believe you are at risk of anal HPV infection or you are experiencing anything abnormal, contact your doctor to discuss which screening procedure is appropriate for you.