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How Can I Prevent Anal Cancer?

The best way you can protect yourself from anal cancer is to be aware of what makes you more likely to get it. These are called your risk factors. You can’t affect some risk factors, but others you can do something about. Knowing more about the risk factors for anal cancer can help you make healthy choices to help you avoid it.

If you find that you are at risk for anal cancer, there’s a lot you can do. Making healthy changes in your life can control some risks. Here are some ways to reduce your risk of getting anal cancer:

  • Avoid human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The best way to reduce your risk of anal cancer is to avoid HPV infection. Not having anal sex is the best way to prevent HPV infection. Condoms can prevent you from getting or giving HIV to your sexual partner, but they do not totally protect against HPV. That’s because this virus can be spread by skin contact from areas that are not covered by the condom. Plus, HPV can be present for years without causing symptoms. You can also talk with your doctor about getting the HPV vaccine, which decreases the likelihood of contracting HPV and may decrease your risk of anal cancer.

  • Get vaccinated. A vaccine called Gardasil can help protect against infection with HPV subtypes 16 and 18 as well as 6 and 11. In studies, this vaccine was found to prevent anal and genital warts caused by HPV types 6 and 11 and to prevent anal, vulvar, vaginal, and cervical cancers and precancers caused by types 16 and 18. Gardasil is approved for use in women and men to prevent anal cancers and precancers. It is also approved to prevent anal and genital warts in both men and women.
    Cervarix, another HPV vaccine available in the U.S., can also be used to prevent infection with HPV types 16 and 18. Although it is only approved by the FDA to help prevent cervical cancers and precancers, a recent study has shown that it is also helpful in preventing anal cancers and precancers.

    It is important to know that these vaccines can only be used to prevent HPV infection--they do not help treat an existing infection. To be most effective, one of the the vaccines should be given before a person becomes sexually active.

  • Stop smoking. If you stop smoking, you lower your risk for anal cancer and many other types of cancer.

  • Limit your sexual partners. More sexual partners increases your risk of HPV infection.

You can also take steps to try to catch anal cancer in its early stages, when it is easiest to treat. Some doctors support routine anal cancer screening for men who are HIV positive and have sex with other men. Ask your health care provider how you can be screened for anal cancer and how to recognize its symptoms.

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