And why she’s no longer embarrassed to talk about the disease. 

By Christina Oehler
June 05, 2019

Desperate Housewives’  Marcia Cross is getting real about her anus. No, seriously. The actress, 57, is on a mission to destigmatize anal cancer—and all of the conversations that come with the subject. 

A year and a half ago, Cross visited the gynecologist for a regular check up when her doctor noticed a cancerous mass in her anus. She was diagnosed with anal cancer, and reached out to CBS to share her story, says the . 

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"I know there are people who are ashamed,” Cross told CBS. “You have cancer! 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.”

She added that she finally got over any reservations she had about saying the word “anus.”

"Even for me, it took a while,” she said. “Anus, anus, anus! Ha. You just have to get used to it." 

Unlike rectal cancer, which forms in the rectum or colon, forms on the anal canal, near the sphincter muscles. Symptoms of anal cancer include anal pain, itching and bleeding in the anus, and the growth of a mass in the anus. Most cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted infection. 

People who have many sexual partners and have anal sex often are at a higher risk for HPV and anal cancer. But while anal cancer is typically linked to HPV, it’s also possible for those without the STI to develop the disease. 

RELATED: How Risky Is Anal Sex? A Gynecologist Explains

Ten years ago, Cross’s husband, Tom Mahoney, was diagnosed with throat cancer. Cross said that doctors believe the same type of high-risk HPV caused both of their cancers. 

HPV can cause a number of other cancers beyond throat and anal: Cancers of the vagina, penis and cervix can also be caused by HPV.  

Cross said that after learning how early immunization can help prevent the risk of HPV—and therefore certain types of cancer—she is taking preventative measures by having both of her daughters vaccinated this year. The CDC recommends vaccination for both boys and girls at age 11 or 12, but certain vaccines, like Gardasil 9, can be started as early as age 9.

As for Cross, she says she’s in remission after six weeks of radiation and two weeks of chemotherapy. 

"I'm feeling back to normal, though it's a new normal," she told CBS. "I don't think I'll ever take it for granted. I'm the girl who goes to the bathroom now and I go 'Yes! It's great what my body can do! I'm so grateful.'"

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