Exploring Anal Self-Examination as a Screening Tool for Women at Risk for Anal Cancer: Awareness, Interest, and Barriers to Behavioral Uptake

Author Type(s)


Document Type


Publication Date

June 2019

Journal Title

Cancer Causes & Control : CCC


Public Health


PURPOSE: Anal cancer is the second most common human-papillomavirus-related cancer in women, with women also at an elevated risk of incidence relative to men. Anal self-examination (ASE) is an efficient way for women to screen between provider visits for potential anal masses. While studied in male populations, no research has explored women's awareness of the self-test. METHODS: In response, 345 women recruited from online advertisements and listservs were surveyed to assess their experiences using health care, history of Pap smears, knowledge of anal cancer, awareness and attitudes surrounding ASEs, and potential educational modalities to promote ASE enactment. RESULTS: Results indicated the sample failed two key anal cancer knowledge tests (receiving a 68%/100% for risk factors and 61%/100% for signs/symptoms), and only 2.3% of participants had ever heard of ASEs before the survey. Most thought ASEs would be somewhat helpful as a screening tool, but little interest was shown towards future performance. Analyses revealed this disinterest was due to lack of knowledge, perceived discomfort with performing ASEs, and perceived irrelevance of ASEs. CONCLUSIONS: Future interventions should push for a stronger role of providers (e.g., gynecologists) in anal health, education, and screening. Additionally, campaigns should be crafted to promote the ASE as an easy, at-home screening tool that could trigger an early warning for anal disease.