The disease is estimated to affect 37 per 100,000 gay men, a similar rate to cervical cancer in women before the introduction of the smear test.
For gay men who are HIV-positive, the incidence is about twice as great – around 75 per 100,000.
The test is based on the use of minichromosome maintenance proteins to detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the anus.
In a study using 235 anal smears from 144 subjects, the test successfully identified 84% of patients with anal pre-cancer.
Lead author of the study, Dr Nick Coleman, said: ‘This is welcome news for people who are at high risk of developing anal cancer. We have uncovered a more effective way to detect anal cancer in its early stages, meaning fewer people would have to undergo the rigours of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.’
Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention (2008)17:2855–2864