Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada - CCAC

Anal Cancer > Treatment Options  

Different treatment options exist for patients with anal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Clinical trials investigate how to improve current treatments and provide information on novel treatment options for cancer patients. For more information on clinical trials, please consult your doctor.

Three standard methods of treatment are used:

Radiation therapy - uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. Two types of radiation therapy exist. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to direct radiation towards the tumour. Internal radiation therapy uses radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters. This is then placed inside the body, either directly into or near the tumour. The dosage of radiation given during treatment, and when and how it is given, will depend on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy - uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping cell division. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream, circulate throughout the body, and destroy cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The type and dosage of chemotherapy given during treatment, and when and how it is given, will depend on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Surgery - Local resection removes the tumour from the anus along a small margin of healthy tissue around the tumour. This surgical procedure may be used if the cancer is small and has not spread. In addition, it may preserve the sphincter muscles so the patient can still control bowel movements. Tumours that form in the lower part of the anus can often be removed with local resection.

Abdominoperineal resection is removal of the anus, rectum, and part of the sigmoid colon through an incision made in the abdomen. Lymph nodes that contain cancer may also be removed during this operation. When these organs are removed, the surgeon creates a new opening (stoma) on the surface of the abdomen so that solid wastes can be collected in a disposable bag outside of the body. This is called a colostomy.

Resection of the colon with colostomy. Image courtesy of the National Cancer Institute (

Source: National Cancer Institute (