Anal cancer and its screening using digital ano-rectal examination (DARE) in men living with HIV who have sex with men
ASHM has commissioned a subcommittee to look at the role of screening for anal cancers in men living with HIV who have sex with men (MSM). The group will initially focus on the merits and issues around routine screening using DARE.
ASHM's HIV treatment guidelines committee has supported the recommendation from the anal cancer screening subcommittee on 17th November 2016.
Anal cancer is defined as a cancer arising either from the squamous or glandular epithelia of the anus. The vast majority are squamous cell carcinomas (SCC), with remainder cancers coded as adenocarcinomas, neuroendocrine neoplasm, malignant melanoma, mesenchymal tumours and lymphoma[1-4]. Anal cancers are distinguished anatomically as intracanal (arising from the anal canal which extends between the rectum to perianal skin) or perianal (arising from the skin within 5cm diameter from the anal verge).
Anal cancer is relatively rare in the general population with incidence rates between one to two per 100,000 person-years [1 3 5 6]. However, for MSM living with HIV, a recent meta-analysis estimated a pooled incidence rate of 77.8 per 100,000 person-years. This is comparable with other common cancers in the general Australian population.
Anal cancer has devastating effects on the patient when diagnosed. It has been estimated that the utility value of anal cancer to be 0.57 (where 0 equates to death and 1 equates to perfect health). Indeed, anal cancer and its treatment has been shown to affect quality of life, including a diminished social role, lowered ability to work and economic distress. Whilst early perianal cancers may be treated with local excision, anal cancers generally require combined chemoradiotherapy as mainstay treatment. The field of anal cancer treatment has evolved significantly with newer radiation technologies allowing more precise targeting of cancer and reducing normal tissue toxicities. Reports show excellent cancer outcomes with less severe grade 3/4 toxicities, especially when anal cancers have been detected at earlier stages[12 13].
Two models for anal cancer screening currently exist: 1) a secondary prevention model where the aim is to detect and treat the presumed precursor lesion (high-grade squamous intraepithelial neoplasia (HSIL) using anal pap smears and/or high resolution anoscopy, in order to prevent progression to anal cancer; 2) a tertiary prevention model where the aim is to detect early anal cancers, using regular perianal and digital ano-rectal examination (DARE) in order to optimise management.
In Australia, the majority of doctors managing HIV patients recognise the importance of screening for anal cancer but few are routinely screening currently. The availability of secondary prevention screening using anal pap smears is restricted to some major cities where high resolution anoscopists can follow up abnormal cytology. For the majority of Australian MSM living with HIV, this is not a practical option for them.
In an audit of anal cancers in Victoria, the average size of anal cancer in people living with HIV was 2.9cm at diagnosis, and most were visible and/or palpable for some time before definitive diagnosis.
Therefore, improving the awareness for the increased risk of anal cancer is a priority for MSM living with HIV. If a man at risk for anal cancer can present earlier to their HIV doctor, there may be improved survival and morbidity from anal cancer treatment modalities if their cancer is diagnosed at an early stage.
Furthermore, there is now increasing evidence that incorporating regular digital ano-rectal examination (DARE) into routine HIV care for those at highest risk for anal cancer (i.e. MSM living with HIV) is acceptable to patients and clinicians, and cost-effective in an Australian context [19 20]. For more detailed evidence of the role of DARE in anal cancer screening, please see J Med Screening ACE Study. In settings where screening with anal cytology is not available, offering regular DARE to MSM living with HIV should be the minimum standard of care in order to detect anal cancers earlier.
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19 Ong JJ, Fairley CK, Carroll S, et al. Cost-effectiveness of screening for anal cancer using regular digital ano-rectal examinations in men who have sex with men living with HIV. J Int AIDS Soc 2016;19(1):20514 doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.1.20514[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
20 Ong J, Grulich A, Walker S, et al. Baseline findings from the Anal Cancer Examination (ACE) study: screening using digital ano-rectal examination in HIV-positive men who have sex with men Journal of medical screening 2015;doi: 10.1177/0969141315604658