Cancer doctors consider Pap smears for gay men

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Cases of anal cancer in the US have risen 37% in the last 10 years and San Francisco doctors are promoting Pap tests for gay men to reduce those rising rates.

The goal is to push back rising rates of anal cancer, which is a preventable disease that has been on a dramatic increase in the United States since a decade ago.

Compared to the increase of just 1% in cancer cases overall the quickly climbing rate of anal cancer is very serious.

The American Cancer Society reported there were about 4,660 documented cases last year which resulted in 660 deaths.

Dr. Joel Palefsky the director of the Anal Neoplasia Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco, and a few of his colleges are suggesting that the Anal Pap smears would help doctors detect precancerous lesions before they turn malignant.

“We haven’t proven it yet, but we believe that we are likely to be preventing anal cancer,” said Palefsky, who is preparing a report on anal cancer prevention.

“Our approach is to move forward on the assumption that we are preventing cancer and working in parallel to the kind of research studies that will convince everyone else.”

Other doctors disagree over whether the tests are necessary or effective.

The test should be left to the doctor’s and patient’s discretion, said Dr. Michael Horberg, director of HIV-AIDS for Kaiser Permanente and an HIV specialist at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.

Statistically more women than man contract anal cancer, but disease rates are disproportionately high among gay men and people who have HIV or other immune-suppressive conditions.

Studies show rates of anal cancer as high as 35 cases for every 100,000 gay men, similar to rates for cervical cancer before women began routinely getting Pap tests 60 years ago.

Since the awareness and accessibility of Pap smears cervical cancer rates have dropped 70%, and doctors hope the same outcome will occur in men considering both cancers are caused by the same sexually transmitted human papilloma virus.

“Anal cancer is a silent issue that’s been building for at least 10 years,”Jason Riggs, a spokesman for the Stop AIDS Project told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It’s sad because it’s incredibly preventable.”

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