After learning that you have cancer, it is understandable that you are eager to start your treatment. Several elements are considered in selecting treatment options and recommendations for anal cancer. Doctors will examine the stage of cancer, patient’s overall health, and personal preferences. Conventional treatments for anal cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
In making treatment decisions, it is essential to take the option that best fits your needs. If time permits and the situation is not too urgent, take time to understand the best possible choice. You may need to clarify information from your cancer care team, or you may find it helpful to talk about your thoughts and seek a piece of advice from your most trusted people – your family and friends. It is relevant to know about the permanent effect of the treatment, its risks, and benefits. Most often others would consider asking for a second opinion.
Surgery is the removal of abnormal and some surrounding healthy tissues. After the procedure, the patient will undergo several evaluation tests to determine that the cancer cells have not recurred. If this happens, another surgery is needed. Abdominoperineal resection (APR) is a type of surgery where the anus is removed, so a new opening is made for the stool to leave the body. This procedure results in a patient needing a colostomy. A doctor may recommend this type of surgery if cancer hasn’t responded to chemotherapy and radiation and for late-stage anal cancer.
Potential risks and side effects mostly depend on the extent of the surgery. Pain is a common side effect and can usually be controlled by medication to reduce discomfort. It is also essential to check on the drainage from the surgery site. Signs of infection include redness and pain in the operative and surrounding areas, foul odor coming from the surgical site, increased count of white blood cells, and complaints of fever.
The surgical procedure also entails the patient to lifetime colostomy that will eventually affect his/her usual lifestyle.
Another recommended treatment is the use of radiation therapy which utilizes high powered beams to suppress and kill cancer cells. It can be used as the primary treatment or along with chemotherapy. During the procedure, the patient lies on a table while a large machine emits radiation beams to the specific area. For anal cancer, radiation therapy is given in 5 to 6 weeks’ duration, depending on the doctor’s recommendations.
The risk of radiation therapy may include damage to healthy tissue adjacent to where the beams are aimed. Fatigue, skin reactions, diarrhea, low white blood cell count and radiation proctitis are also common side effects.
Chemotherapy drugs are given via intravenous administration. The drug enters the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells thus halting its ability to grow and divide. Due to the potency of these drugs, regrettably, the chemicals are also toxic to healthy cells thus damaging them too. It is also a combined therapy for radiation therapy called chemoradiation.
Just like any treatment, there are side effects that accompany chemotherapy including fatigue, lowering blood count, nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Chemoradiation increases the effectiveness of two treatments but considerably have more side effects.
In all these treatments, make sure that you ask your doctor all the necessary information pertaining to the therapeutic outcomes, side effects, and complications.