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Anal cancer rates soar since 1970s

Incidence of anal cancer have soared by almost 300% in the UK since the 1970s, new figures have shown.

The charity Cancer Research UK said incidences of the “taboo” cancer had risen more dramatically in women than in men. Their experts believe the change is linked to increasing infections of human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through sexual activity.

The virus is well known as a trigger of cervical cancer, but also linked to 90% of anal cancers.

Previous research has suggested a connection with anal intercourse, but the charity stressed that any sexual activity increases the risk of passing on HPV.

Smoking may also be a risk factor. While smoking rates have dropped since the 1970s, the reduction has been less pronounced in women.

Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK’s head of statistics, said: “These are very worrying findings and highlight an increase in a cancer that’s not often talked about.

“Around 1,200 people are diagnosed with cancer of the anus every year in the UK, which means it’s still a relatively rare disease. But the rise in incidence, particularly in women, is concerning.

“We don’t fully understand the reason for the difference between men and women, but we do know HPV and smoking are strong risk factors for the disease.”

Overall, anal cancer incidence had risen from 0.4 cases per 100,000 of the population in the mid 1970s to 1.5 per 100,000 today.

Around six people now die from the disease each week in the UK, representing a quadrupling of death rate in the past 40 years.

Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Anal cancer is closely linked to HPV, and changes in sexual attitudes mean people are increasingly exposed to the virus.

“We’re not suggesting people take a vow of celibacy, but HPV vaccination, using a condom and being a non-smoker can all help to reduce the risk.

“Early diagnosis is also important so report any unusual or persistent changes in your body or bowel habits to your doctor.

“The most common symptom is bleeding from the anus. The cause is much more likely to be something less serious but it’s important to report symptoms to your doctor and get them checked out.”

Readers' comments (15)

  • Comment removed

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  • people use far to many chemicals around their homes, in their gardens and on themselves which they do not need, added to air pollution and everything else which is ingested, inspired and absorbed through the skin it is hardly surprising any sorts of cancers are on the rise. we need to be more responsible about what we consume and the authorities on what is produced.

    Since I read that recycled paper, including loo paper and check out receipts, have a high biphosphenol content I stopped using the former and try to keep handling of the latter to the minimum as all of these different chemicals can have an accumulative effect which have the potential of causing disease which could be fatal.

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  • Anonymous | 5-Jun-2014 4:22 pm

    considering this is a professional journal you could have expressed your comment more scientifically or at least intelligently and more delicately! Nurses have long since moved on from being prostitutes and uneducated!

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  • Might I add to the first comment that you really need to consider that the study merely believes that it may be as a result of anal sexual activity but does not definitively confirm this. I would suggest that you keep your discriminatory and judgemental comments to yourself. If you are a nurse, please review why you are in this profession at all.

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  • I agree with comments upon the first posting.

    It is highly judgemental and offensive. What people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is entirely their own business.

    It should not be the subject of offensive judgements - least of all on a nursing forum !

    Such attitudes will only help to deter people from being open and honest with professionals supposedly there to care for them without judgement !

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  • We don't have to talk scientifically all the time. Some of the things said most simply can be the pre-cursor to the research questions of tomorrow and the evidence of the future.

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  • Anonymous | 6-Jun-2014 1:37 pm

    ...well at least professionally. the first comment, if made by a trained nurse, which I very much doubt and sincerely hope not, is a disgrace and such remarks give the profession a bad name.

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  • yes you do if you are a professional commenting on a professional website.

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  • Sadly I am not in the slightest surprised by the breathtakingly ignorant initial comment, but iam by the trained nurse quote. . I would also expect non-trained staff to display a professional and non-judgemental attitude as well as their registered team members. You wonder why we are fighting for respect when comments like these are displayed on a nursing website.

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  • Pussy

    Tasteless comment.

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  • Tasteless or not, the truth is non-conventional sex can cause problems and if it s the cause of cancer, people need to know and take precautions. No use hiding these findings just because some people feel victimised.

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  • Anonymous | 10-Jun-2014 2:46 pm

    maybe but this is a professional journal for a professional readership and if you want such comments to be taken seriously there ways of expressing information in a professional, constructive, informative and non-judgmental manner!

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  • When will the Government/DOH realise that they need to vaccinate boys too. Just vaccinating girls will not solve these cancers linked to HPV.

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  • Comment removed

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  • There are many factors for getting Anal Ca, NOT just from having anal sex people!! Jeez!! 90% triggered by HPV and sexual contact (NOT necessarilly penetration). I agree that young men should also be given the HPV vaccine, just as the young girls are currently.
    BTW what exactly is 'Gods way' and why is it best??
    For a nurse's magazine there seems to be a lot of judgements going on in the responses. Scary & no wonder people don't want to open up to us as professionals if they encounter some of the attitudes on this page!

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