PLNSW Anal Cancer Awareness 560x300 NOLOGOS

There’s a lot of misconception about who gets anal cancer and how it’s caused.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-related cancers such as anal cancer, is a risk for all people living with HIV despite the type of sex you have.

I was chatting to a friend the other day and told her about the work I’ve been doing with Positive Life NSW on anal cancer awareness. She was shocked when I told her that anyone can develop HPV-related anal cancer including women.

She laughed and said, “but that’s if you are having anal sex.” I responded that was not the case, and that HPV can be spread to the anus from something as simple as front-to-back wiping after the toilet. She stopped laughing then.

The precursor to anal cancer is persistent HPV. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV including men, women and trans and gender diverse people. HPV is a really common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that usually has no symptoms and normally affects around 80% of us at some point in our lives.

The good news is, most of the time HPV will clear itself without treatment and you may not even know if you’ve got it. The not so good news is if HPV is persistent it can develop into HPV-related cancers such as cervical, vaginal, vulvar, oropharyngeal (throat and mouth) and even anal cancer.

While anal cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer, for people living with HIV, particularly for those over the age of 45 years, there’s an increased risk for developing anal cancer than the general population.

While having anal sex can increase your risk for anal cancer, many men, women, and trans and gender diverse people who don’t often or have never had anal sex can also be at risk of developing anal cancer. Other risks for developing anal cancer include having multiple sexual partners, being older, smoking, an existing or previous HPV diagnosis, a previous history of HPV-related cancer such as cervical, vulvar or vagina cancer, and drugs or conditions that suppress your immune system such as organ transplant recipients and having an autoimmune condition.

March 21 is Anal Cancer Awareness Day, and this year Positive Life NSW is urging all people living with HIV to raise the topic of anal cancer with your HIV health provider. For more information Positive Life NSW has also developed a factsheet for people living with HIV called ‘HPV & Anal Cancer’ which can be downloaded from our website.

If you have any questions about anal cancer or your risk, or if you want to talk to a peer also living with HIV, contact the Treatment Officer at Positive Life on (02) 8357 8386 or 1800 245 677 (freecall) or email

Published in Talkabout #195 February 2021

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