Anal examination

A specialist will examine the anal canal using a thin tube called an anoscope.

What is an anal examination?

An anal examination is when a specialist examines the anal area for any signs of cancer. Women will probably also have an internal examination of the vagina, as it very close to the anal canal.
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Having an anal examination

Having an examination of the anus may be painful, so it is usually done under a general anaesthetic. This means you will be asleep so will not feel any pain. Some people may have this in the hospital outpatient department using a local anaesthetic. In this case, you will have an injection to numb the area, so you will not feel any pain.

Doctors use a thin tube called an anoscope to examine the anal canal. If they also examine the rectum, they use a slightly longer tube called a proctoscope.

What to expect during the test

You lie on your left side with your knees drawn up towards your chest. The doctor gently passes the tube into your back passage. The tube has a light and a magnifier on the end. The doctor uses it to look for any abnormal areas. They may apply a liquid to these areas to help them show up more clearly. The doctor removes a small sample of cells (biopsy) from any abnormal areas. The sample is sent to a laboratory. A doctor who specialises in studying cells (pathologist) checks it for cancer cells.

You should be able to go home as soon as the test is over or when you have recovered from the general anaesthetic.

Sometimes doctors can take a biopsy of the anal margin without using an anoscope or proctoscope. If you have this, you will have a local anaesthetic to numb the area first.

Lymph nodes

The doctor will also examine the lymph nodes in your groin as these are closest to the anus. If they are swollen, then you may have further tests to see if there is cancer in the lymph nodes.
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About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 April 2020
Next review: 30 April 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
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