Non-mucinous adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas of the anal region masquerading as abscess or fistula: a retrospective analysis and systematic review of literature

J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2022 Jun;148(6):1509-1522. doi: 10.1007/s00432-021-03747-8. Epub 2021 Aug 2.


Purpose: Abscess or fistula of the anal region is an uncommon presentation of malignancy. Under the assumption of a benign condition, diagnostics is often delayed, resulting in advanced tumour stages at first diagnosis. Due to the case rarity, treatment guidelines for cancers of anorectal region masquerading as abscess or fistula are missing.

Methods: We analysed all patients presenting with an abscess or fistula of the anal region in our department between January 2004 and August 2020. The malignancies were included to our study to acquire data on clinical presentation, treatment and outcome. Furthermore, a systematic review to present adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas associated to an abscess or fistula was performed.

Results: 0.5% of the patients treated for an abscess or fistula of the anal region met the selection criteria. Mean time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis of malignancy was 100 days. Histology revealed adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma each in two patients. All patients had locally advanced tumours without distant metastases, in two cases with regional lymph-node metastases. Neoadjuvant chemoradiation was applied in two patients. All patients underwent abdomino-perineal resection of the rectum. The overall outcome reveals a recurrence-free survival of 4.5 and 3 years for two patients. Further two patients died within 5 months after the primary resection.

Conclusion: Advanced carcinomas of the anorectal region may masquerade as abscess or fistula, cause diagnostic problems and delay oncologic treatment. However, even in these very advanced situations, surgical therapy with curative intent should be attempted.

Keywords: Abscess; Adenocarcinoma; Anal region; Fistula; Squamous cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / diagnosis
  • Adenocarcinoma* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell* / therapy
  • Fistula*
  • Humans
  • Rectum
  • Retrospective Studies