SPANC study examines prevention of anal cancer

News | Published on 21 Mar 2014

Volunteers are needed in Sydney for a study to inform cancer prevention programs

The Kirby Institute is recruiting gay men living in Sydney to participate in a study of anal human papillomavirus (HPV) that will provide critical information to inform the design of anal cancer prevention programs.

“There are more than 100 types of HPV,” explains Professor Andrew Grulich, Program Head at the Kirby Institute and chief investigator of the SPANC study. “Some cause genital warts, while other types cause more than 90 per cent of anal cancer. Gay men are over 20 times more likely than others to develop anal cancer.”

Anal cancer is a relatively rare cancer in the general population. However, its incidence among men and women has been steadily increasing.  As noted by Professor Grulich, gay men experience higher rates of anal cancer than the general population. For HIV-positive gay men the risk is further elevated, despite improvements in general health associated with effective HIV therapies. A linkage study of the Australian HIV and cancer registries found that anal cancer had become the most common non AIDS-defining cancer and the third most common cancer overall among people with HIV in Australia.

The SPANC study (Study of the Prevention of ANal Cancer) will track the prevalence of anal HPV infection and related anal disease in a cohort of gay men. SPANC is open to all gay men aged 35 years or more (with no upper age limit) and is particularly keen to enrol more HIV positive men in the study. Results of the study will provide important information to guide the future introduction of anal cancer screening programs for gay men.

What’s involved?

A SPANC team member will ask participants a few brief questions to confirm eligibility  and then explain the nature of the study.

The study involves six visits over three years. Each of the first five visits consists of:

  • an anal swab
  • an anal examination where a small plastic tube is inserted into the anus
  • an interview at each visit about other factors that might be related to cancer including sexual behaviour

All personal tests results are reviewed at the sixth visit.

Who is eligible?

  • men living in the Sydney region
  • aged 35 years or more
  • have had sex with a man
  • never diagnosed with anal cancer
  • not taking anticoagulant medication (aspirin is OK)

The study is led by the Kirby Institute, UNSW Australia in partnership with the Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre at University of Sydney, St Vincent’s Centre for Applied Medical Research and RPA Sexual Health, Camperdown and is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and Cancer Council NSW. The study will run until 2018.

For more information about the study or to enrol, please visit, or call: 1800 477262 (1800 4SPANC).

All queries will remain strictly confidential.


Laurie Legere


+61 413 476 647