Symptoms and diagnosis of anal cancer

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Symptoms of anal cancer

  • Bleeding from your back passage.
  • Small lumps around your anus.
  • Pain or discomfort in the anal area.
  • An abnormal discharge from your anus.
  • Anal itching.
  • Losing control of your bowel movements.

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out. 

Can I be screened for anal cancer?

Testing for anal cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national anal cancer screening programme in Ireland at present. If you are at higher risk of anal cancer or you're worried, talk to your GP.

Diagnosing anal cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms and do a rectal examination. This is where your doctor puts a gloved finger into your back passage to feel for any lumps or swelling. This quick test may be slightly uncomfortable but does not hurt. 

Your GP will refer you to hospital if they think you need more tests. Tests you might have include:


In this test your doctor looks inside your back passage with a hollow metal tube called a proctoscope.


A longer tube with a camera is used in this test. The tube is carefully put into your back passage and your doctor checks for any abnormal areas in the lower part of your bowel. He or she can also take samples of the cells in your bowel. This is called a biopsy.


A small sample of tissue removed from your anus during a proctoscopy or sigmoidoscopy and sent to the laboratory where it’s examined under a microscope. 

If you are diagnosed with cancer you will need other tests to stage the cancer.

A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specialises in treating problems with the digestive system. 

For more information

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