Marcia Cross reveals anal cancer likely caused by husband's HPV virus

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor

Marcia Cross has told how her anal cancer was caused by the same human papillomavirus (HPV) which caused her husband’s throat cancer eight years ago.

The 57-year-old ‘Desperate Housewives’ actor was diagnosed with anal cancer a year and a half ago during a routine digital rectal exam.

She has since undergone a programme of chemotherapy and radiation, and now her cancer is in remission, she has revealed.

Cross, who is committed to raising awareness of anal cancer, recently appeared on a segment for US show, ‘CBS This Morning’ to share her experience of being diagnosed and living with cancer.

READ MORE: How to spot the symptoms of anal cancer

Early on in the segment, she discusses caring for her husband, Tom Mahoney, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2009 – but, according to the programme, she did not realise the virus causing his condition could lead to her developing other cancers.

Marcia Cross pictured with husband Tom Mahoney. [Photo: Getty]

“What Cross didn’t know then was that the same type of HPV that caused [her husband’s] throat cancer can also cause cancer in the anus,” a voiceover on the CBS segment explains.

HPV is responsible for 90% of anal cancers, the programme goes on to explain.

Emma Shields, Cancer Research UK health information manager, told Yahoo UK: “HPV is a very common infection passed on through skin-to-skin contact, and it usually doesn’t cause any problems.

“But some types of HPV can increase the risk of cancer, including cervical, anal, mouth and throat cancers.

“The HPV vaccine helps protect against cancer, and is currently offered to females aged 11-13 in the UK, but there are plans for this to be extended to teenage boys too.”

Cross is currently campaigning for greater awareness of the vaccine, which she says her twin daughters Eden and Savannah will get at the end of the school year.

Later in the segment, Cross discusses her unexpected diagnosis with anal cancer – despite suffering no symptoms.

READ MORE: What is HPV and what are the symptoms?

"I was so not thinking anything was wrong because I didn't have any symptoms, and she gave me an exam and came around and said, 'Well, I just want you to know, whatever it is it's curable,'" Cross said.

"It was like 'What? What are you talking about?'"

READ MORE: Add milk to hot drinks to cut your risk of cancer, say doctors

Cross also dispels the shame surrounding this particular form of cancer: "I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! Do you have to then also feel ashamed? Like you did something bad, you know, because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really. There’s enough on your plate.”

"Even for me, it took a while [to talk about it]. Anus, anus, anus. You just have to get used to it,” she adds.

What is anal cancer?

Anal cancer is a rare cancer, with some 1,300 people in the UK diagnosed annually, according to the NHS website.

It can be caused by exposure to HPV, through sexual or skin to skin contact.

The most effective treatment for anal cancer is chemoradiation, which is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The NHS says a few hospitals now offer tablet chemotherapy for anal cancer.

Surgery is a less common treatment option for anal cancer. It’s usually only considered if the tumour is small and can be easily removed, or if chemoradiation hasn’t worked.