Facebook Pixel

The Taboo Behind Anal Cancer--An Editorial

Rate This
Sexually Transmitted Diseases related image Photo: Getty Images

When AIDS became an epidemic back in the 1980s it was something that people simply did not want to talk about. It was as though even discussing the subject somehow put one at risk for contracting the newly discovered virus, and it took quite a number of years before even the news media seemed comfortable discussing the subject.

The same is true now with respect to anal cancer. As a survivor of anal cancer (twice) I tend to pay particular attention to media accounts, print or otherwise, of this disease.

In the case of Farrah Fawcett, who passed away from anal cancer in June 2009, there were very few reporters who even used the word anal. In most cases it was referred to as colon cancer which a totally separate disease. Those who did report it as anal cancer appeared visibly uncomfortable even using the word.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is responsible for greater than 90 percent of anal cancers, a disease all too often misdiagnosed as bleeding hemorrhoids. In addition to the protection offered against cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer in women and penile cancer in men, the United States Food and Drug Administration has recently approved the Gardasil vaccine for use in the protection against anal cancer as well.

We cannot adequately address the subject when there is difficulty even mentioning it. This needs to be viewed for what it is, simply another body part. It is unfortunate that most people who have even heard of HPV make no other connections beyond that of cervical cancer.

I believe this is due in large part to the Gardasil commercials which first introduced most people to the term HPV. At that time, the vaccine was only approved for protection against cervical cancer, however much has changed in the five years since Gardasil became available. Unfortunately, there has not been another wave of commercials updating people regarding the many other cancers which HPV has now been shown to cause, and many physicians do not provide this information to their patients either.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated that some 20 million Americans have HPV. It is the single most common sexually transmitted infection making clear the need to address HPV-induced anal cancer now and not years down the road. We simply cannot allow our underlying discomfort to delay discussion of the subject as happened with the AIDS virus.

There are over 100 strains of HPV, 40 of which affect the genital tract. With a vaccine available to protect from anal cancers caused by the two most aggressive high risk strains of the virus (16 and 18), the sooner people are made aware of this availability the better.


Bonnie Diraimondo is a registered nurse and author of the book Any Mother's Daughter. She is an expert in the area of HPV and advocates on behalf of patients.

Add a Comment5 Comments

Part of the reason I created my website and wrote my book is for many of these same reasons. There is no neeed for people to feel alone. However there is also no need, as was the purpose of my article, to have members of the healthcare profession, media or otherwise look upon us as "less than" and treat us with less dignity than they would anyone else. This happens all too often Im afraid.
Yes there are many wonderful groups out there advocating and helping those with STI's and it is not easy to get this information out there to those who truly need it.

April 12, 2011 - 10:06am
EmpowHER Guest

One of the things that you should be aware of is that you are not alone. Millions of men and women have herpes. I have both forms of herpes I get an occasional outbreak on my lip and about once a year I have a genital herpes outbreak. http://www.HerpesLove.net is a great website that has made me whole again. I now have control of my condition and a great girlfriend. I now write articles in my spare about herpes. I think so many thousands of people are suffering alone the way I was and this is no way to go though life. Stop being depressed about it and take control of your dating life right now. Don't live another day feeling like no one will date you because of your condition. There are millions of people who will date you with your condition so you need to take your life back.

April 12, 2011 - 9:35am

HPV is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and one does not have to engage in sexual intercourse either vaginally or anally to contract the virus. One can still be a virgin and contract HPV. Women with cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell changes) 99% of the time caused by HPV, are shown to be at a higher risk for developing anal dysplasia and anal cancer than those who without it. I will have numerous other articles on the subject of HPV in the near future.

April 11, 2011 - 6:55pm


Excellent article! Thank you for advocating for this very important issue that I'm afraid most people are not aware of. I was not aware of these facts in your article. Can you please comment on if people contract annal cancer from anal sex? I am wondering if this is how the HPV virus is contracted.



April 11, 2011 - 4:22pm
EmpowHER Guest

One of my friends got hepatitis B 10 years ago and she knew how difficult to find support, love or friendship. To help more people living with STDs, we launched STDdatings. com in 2001, the exclusive STD support site serving poz people with Herpes(HSV 1,HSV 2),HIV,HPV,Hepatitis. No rejection or discrimination. If you or someone you know is living with STDs, please come visit our site and add us as friend. Never live in your own dark corner.

April 11, 2011 - 4:05pm
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Get Email Updates

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!