Current treatment and future directions in the management of anal cancer

Leila T. Tchelebi, Cathy Eng, Craig A. Messick, Theodore S. Hong, Ethan B. Ludmir, Lisa A. Kachnic, Nicholas G. Zaorsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Although rare, the rate of squamous cell carcinoma of the anus (SCCA) is rising globally. Most patients present with nonmetastatic disease and are curable with appropriate treatment, which has evolved significantly over the last several decades. Before the 1970s, SCCA was managed with radical surgery, resulting in a permanent colostomy. Researchers found that preoperative treatment with chemotherapy and concurrent radiation could achieve a pathologic complete response. After this observation, definitive therapy shifted from radical surgery to sphincter-preserving chemoradiation. Investigations into the necessity of chemotherapy and the optimal regimen found that chemotherapy with mitomycin-C and 5-fluorouracil is required for cure. Further studies evaluating the addition of induction or maintenance chemotherapy, monoclonal antibody therapy, or higher radiation doses have demonstrated no significant benefit to disease control. Advanced radiation delivery with intensity-modulated radiotherapy techniques is now considered the standard of care because of its prospectively determined, favorable acute toxicity profile compared with 3-dimensional conformal radiation. It is important to note that chemoradiation treatment response may be slow (up to 26 weeks) and should be assessed through serial clinical examinations. Today, surgical management of SCCA is reserved only for the lowest risk, early stage tumors or for recurrent/persistent disease. Current studies are evaluating radiation dose de-escalation in early stage disease and radiation dose escalation and the addition of immune checkpoint inhibitors in locally advanced cancers. In reviewing how and why modern-day treatment of SCCA was established, the objective of this report is to reenforce adherence to current treatment paradigms to assure the best possible outcomes for patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-195
Number of pages13
JournalCA Cancer Journal for Clinicians
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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