Recently I was talking to my gay-friendly doctor colleagues about the high incidence of anal cancer we are seeing in men who have sex with men. It’s very worrying.
You may not realise it, but simply being a man who has sex with men puts you at higher risk of developing anal cancer. And if you have ever had anal warts, or if you have HIV, the risk is much higher again. Incidentally, women who have had an abnormal Pap smear are also at increased risk.
Anal cancer is a form of cancer that grows inside the anus, so usually you don’t get any symptoms early on. Once you have symptoms like bleeding, trouble pooing or pain, it may be at a very advanced stage and treatment (surgery, radiotherapy) will be no walk in the park.
The best way to detect anal cancer is very early on, when it’s easier to treat. The only way to detect it is to have a rectal exam, done by your local gay-friendly doctor, and this should be done as part of an annual checkup, especially if you’re HIV positive. It’s just a gloved finger up the bum, and is also the best way to screen for prostate cancer. Now straight men often baulk at this examination, hiding their embarrassment with jokes ( “Doc, you’re boldly going where no man has gone before!” etc) but devoted readers of this column should have no problem with it.
After all, a few seconds of discomfort is a very small price to pay to prevent a terrible disease.