Anal Cancer: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about anal cancer and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about anal cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for people through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses materials either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function. Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy. Checkpoint inhibitors are an important type of immunotherapy recently shown to be beneficial when anal cancer has metastasized (spread to other organs). Two checkpoint inhibitors being studied for metastatic anal cancer include pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo). Both drugs target PD-1, a receptor on tumor cells, preventing the tumor cells from hiding from the immune system.

  • Radiosensitizers. Drugs that make tumor cells more susceptible to radiation therapy are being explored as a way to enhance the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

  • Prevention/HPV vaccination. Because many anal cancers are likely caused by HPV, widespread use of an HPV vaccine (see Risk Factors and Prevention) could potentially prevent many cases of anal cancer from occurring. Learn more about HPV and cancer.

  • Early detection/anal cytology. As explained in Screening, anal cytology looks for abnormal cells in the anal lining. Research continues on how this test may help find anal cancer at the earliest, most treatable stages.

  • Palliative care/supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current anal cancer treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in anal cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.