Anal cancer

Planning treatment

Anal cancer

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Your specialist works with a multidisciplinary team (MDT) to recommend the best treatment options for you. The Canrefer website has information about MDTs in NSW.

It is important to understand your treatment options. The specialist will explain these to you, and together you will agree on a treatment plan.

Some cancer treatments can affect fertility. If having children in the future is important to you, talk to your doctor about this BEFORE you start treatment. 

What you need to know

Anal cancer treatment options

The best treatment for your anal cancer depends on several things:

  • the type of anal cancer you have
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • your general health
  • your personal preferences.

Your specialist will explain the options to you.

Types of anal cancer treatment

Treatment for anal cancer may include:

  •  radiation therapy (radiotherapy)
  • chemotherapy
  • surgery
  • immunotherapy - may be available through clinical trials.

Most people with anal cancer have a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, known as chemoradiation. The main purpose of this is to treat the cancer without having to remove the anus.

A small number of people have surgery. This can be used to remove a cancer that is small and superficial, or to remove the anus and part of the bowel for cancer that is more advanced or has come back after initial treatment.

Some people also have palliative care to manage symptoms or take part in clinical trials which tests new cancer treatment options.

Purpose of treatment

The purpose of a treatment is known as the treatment intent.

Depending on your situation, this can be:

  • curative – to cure the cancer completely
  • control – to control the cancer and stop it from growing and spreading
  • palliative – to manage symptoms caused by the cancer.

Treatment order

If you need more than one type of cancer treatment, you will usually have these one after the other. Treatments are described as:

  • primary – the main treatment for a cancer, e.g. surgery.
  • adjuvant – given after the primary treatment, e.g. treatment after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
  • neoadjuvant – given before the primary treatment, e.g. treatment to shrink large tumours before surgery.

Sometimes, two treatments can be given at the same time. This is known as concurrent treatment. An example of this is chemoradiation, which is when radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time.

What to ask or talk about

Understanding your treatment options

Your specialist should explain:

  • what they think is the best treatment for you
  • how helpful they expect it to be
  • where you can have your treatment
  • any side effects you may get
  • whether there is a clinical trial you could take part in
  • any costs involved with treatment.

This will help you to make an informed decision about what treatment to have.

Making treatment decisions

Some key points to remember when making treatment decisions:

  • Make sure you have all the information you need to make your decision, including what costs will be involved.
  • Ask the specialist to explain more clearly if you don’t understand the choices.
  • Don’t be rushed into decisions.
  • Take time to think about your choices and discuss them with your doctors and your family or friends.
  • If you are not happy with the choices you are offered, you can ask to see another specialist for a second opinion.​

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Treatment plan

Once you and your specialist have agreed on your treatment, a treatment plan will be made. 

The treatment plan gives details of:

  • the different treatments you will have
  • the order you will have them in
  • where you will have each treatment
  • what each treatment will involve
  • how long the treatment will take. 

Starting treatment

Before you start treatment, make sure you know:

  • the date and time of your first treatment
  • where you need to go
  • if you need any tests beforehand
  • whether there is anything you should do to prepare
  • when you next need to see your specialist.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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