A majority of the cases observed by researchers were caused by the human papillomavirus

By Claudia Harmata
November 20, 2019 02:04 PM

A new study has found that anal cancer is on the rise in the United States.

On Tuesday the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published research indicating a dramatic increase in anal cancer rates and mortality across the United States, particularly among young black men and the elderly.

“Our findings of the dramatic rise in incidence among black millennials and white women, rising rates of distant-stage disease, and increases in anal cancer mortality rates are very concerning,” Ashish A. Deshmukh, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health, told CNN.

Researchers examined trends in anal cancer cases between 2001 and 2016, and found that incidence of squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (SCCA) — the most common form of anal cancer, according to Cancer.net — has increased by 2.7 percent each year, while the death rate from the disease rose by 3.1 percent each year.

RELATED: What to Know About HPV, the Sexually Transmitted Disease that Led to Marcia Cross’ Anal Cancer

This makes the disease one of the fastest growing causes of cancer incidence and fatality in the nation, Deshmukh told the Today show. “It’s concerning,” he said. “Traditionally, our perception of anal cancer has been that it’s one of the rarest forms of cancer and because of that, it’s neglected.”

When looking at demographics, black men born in the mid-1980s experienced five times the risk of contracting the disease, compared to adults born around 1946. Meanwhile that same risk doubled for white men and women born circa the 1960s.

Deshmukh told Today that one explanation for the findings could be that young black men are disproportionately affected by HIV, compromising their immune systems. Similarly, the elderly have weaker immune systems that may not be able to fight off the HPV in their bodies.

HPV strain
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty

“It’s really hard to understand what might be causing the rise in incidence and mortality,” Deshmukh told Today. In total, Deshmukh and his team found 68,809 cases of anal cancer and 12,111 deaths from the disease in the time period observed.

RELATED: Marcia Cross on Why She Spoke Out About Anal Cancer: ‘People Were Suffering and Ashamed’

According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common risk factors that increase the chance of someone contracting the disease include: being over the age of 50, having multiple sexual partners, having anal intercourse, being infected with HPV, and smoking.

The Mayo Clinic also lists as risk factors taking immunosuppressive drugs as well as having conditions that suppress the immune system, such as HIV.

A vast majority of cases in the recent study were a result of HPV, NBC reported, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “HPV is thought to be responsible for about 91% of anal cancers.”

Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross came forward last year to share her personal experience with anal cancer. She was diagnosed in November 2017 and kept her treatment a secret until September 2018.

In terms of prevention, doctors suggest receiving an HPV vaccine, which requires a series of three shots, and practicing safe sex.

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