A Pap Smear for Men – Diagnosing Anal Cancer

Published: December 23, 2010

Early one fall morning, 32-year-old Mark Ramos (not his real name) walked into the New York-based Callen-Lorde Community Health Center for a routine medical check up. After several questions about his sexual practices, Mark consented to a rectal exam. He dropped his pants and underwear and climbed up on to the exam table in a kneeling position. The doctor cautioned that he would feel a slight discomfort as he swabbed Mark’s anus and took the male equivalent of a pap smear. Two weeks later, Mark, who came to the U.S. from a Caribbean country, received a call and was advised that the pap smear revealed that there was a suggestion of the presence of abnormal cells and was invited to come in for a colposcopy, a more thorough examination; the male equivalent of a cervical exam

Except for that heightened fashion sense, creativity, artistry, and culinary skills, men who have sex with men (MSM) do have at least one thing in common with women: one of the effects of the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer in women and anal cancer in MSM. Over the years knowledge and treatment for this virus has gradually “come out” of the classification as a women only problem, where more and more MSM are receiving examinations, screenings, and treatment, if precancerous cells are discovered. Anal cancer came to prominence recently with the death of Farah Fawcett.

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