Anal Cancer: Prevention & Treatment
- Farrah Fawcett would turn 76 this week if she were still alive today; the actress and beauty icon passed away in 2009 following a battle with anal cancer which she treated with chemotherapy.
- Since Fawcett’s death, new clinical trials are now available for this disease. Advancements in immunotherapy for anal cancer have also made headway as treatment. Other treatments for anal cancer include radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy.
- HPV can lead to anal cancer, throat cancer, and it is almost always the cause of cervical cancers.
- While the HPV vaccine is traditionally administered to adolescent girls, teenagers, and young women, older adults who don’t have HPV can still very much benefit from receiving it as well.
She left behind her son Redmond O’Neal, who she shared with former partner Ryan O’Neal. Fawcett was best known for being an actress and also a beauty and sex symbol. She was featured in magazines like Playboy and appeared in many films and TV shows, including Charlie’s Angels, which was considered her breakout role. In 1976, Fawcett’s star was on the rise. She later starred in films like The Burning Bed, The Cannonball Run, Logan’s Run, Small Sacrifices, and The Apostle with Robert Duvall. She was also known for her style, and many people emulated her beautiful feathered hair.
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Anal Cancer Treatment Advances
Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006. Treatments for anal cancer include radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy.
The actress underwent chemotherapy and radiation for her anal cancer, and she was declared cancer-free. However, three months after that, additional tests showed her cancer returned and had metastasized to her liver.
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Lillian Kreppel’s Anal Cancer Survivor Story
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that other treatment advancements for anal cancer include immunotherapy. ACS describes how “immunotherapy is treatment that boosts the body’s immune response against cancer cells. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) are immunotherapy drugs now being used in people with advanced anal cancer that has grown during at least one prior chemotherapy treatment.”
ACS explains how “Different kinds of immunotherapy drugs are also being studied as an option for treating anal cancers that have not spread to distant organs but cannot be removed with surgery or that have not spread but are at high risk of coming back after chemoradiation and surgery. Another area of research is the combination of immunotherapy with chemotherapy.”
“People Are Afraid to Talk About It Because of Where It Is”: Justine Almada Talks Anal Cancer Awareness
Anal Cancer & HPV
Fawcett’s disease allowed her to spread awareness about anal cancer. She was able to help mimimize the embarrassment that comes along with the name and area of the disease.
Justine Almada, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Anal Cancer Foundation, started dedicating her life to anal cancer after losing her mother to the disease. She has been fighting to help make the necessary advancements.
“Four issues became the cornerstone of our organization– prevention, screening, treatment, and patient empowerment. And in the years since mom died, we’ve made a tremendous impact.” She explained that anal cancer patients who are newly diagnosed are able to get access to clinical trial navigation, a peer-to-peer matching program, which is essential.
“Many people are afraid to tell their work colleagues, their family members, even their children what kind of cancer they have simply because it’s a part of the body that people don’t like to talk about– the anal canal,” she said. “We all have the anal canal, we all use it every day so it’s time that we move on from the stigma.”
HPV can lead to anal cancer, throat cancer, and it is almost always the cause of cervical cancers.
Dr. Jessica Geiger, Medical Oncologist from the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview that “HPV is a virus that’s actually very well spread throughout Western society. It is a sexually transmitted virus,” she said.
“Fortunately, the majority of us, over 90%, clear the virus without ever knowing that we were exposed. However, in 6% or 7% of the population, the virus remains dormant in our body and can ultimately cause changes that form cancer,” Dr. Geiger said, suggesting that children get vaccinated for HPV “before they are sexually active. Before their teenage years.”
HPV and Cancer Risk The Basics
Who Should Get the HPV Vaccine?
While the HPV vaccine is traditionally administered to adolescent girls, teenagers, and young women, older adults who don’t have HPV can still very much benefit from receiving it as well.
The HPV vaccine is approved in the U.S. for people up to age 45, though it’s recommended that children get it before they become sexually active, as the vaccine can prevent a lot of these cancers. Gardasil 9 protects against nine strains of HPV – including the strains most likely to cause cancer and genital warts. But it can’t provide protection if a person has already been exposed to HPV. That’s why doctors recommend it for children as young as 9.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai, explains the potential impact of HPV. He says, “The vast majority of humans in the U.S., both men, and women, will eventually get infected with human papillomavirus. The important thing to know about HPV,” says Dr. Ho, “is that there are many different strains, and only a couple of them tend to be more cancer-inducing.”
“Probably less than 1% of the population who get infected happen to have the cancer-causing virus that somehow their immune system fails to clear, and over 15 to 20 years [it] develops from a viral infection into a tumor, and a cancer,” explains Dr. Ho.
Why the HPV Vaccine is so Important in Preventing Cancer
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff
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