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Cancer Survivor Marcia Cross Warns Others Never to Do This

The "Desperate Housewives" star shares this crucial piece of health advice.

Marcia Cross is a TV star best known for her role as Bree Van de Kamp on the ABC drama Desperate Housewives. But five years after the series wrapped, the high profile actor was contending with a life-altering medical condition behind the scenes. In 2017, Cross was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Now in remission, she's using her platform as a star to end the stigma about this particular type of cancer, which some people still regard as taboo. Read on to find out which one crucial piece of health advice the star is sharing with her fans, and why she says shame and stigma have no place in any cancer diagnosis.

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Cross was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2017.

Marcia Cross
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In 2017, Cross visited her gynecologist for her annual visit. During a digital rectal exam, her doctor discovered growths and immediately referred her to a colon and rectal surgeon for a biopsy. Soon after, the actor was diagnosed with anal cancer, a somewhat rare form of cancer which affects nearly 10,000 Americans each year. "I felt very lucky because the only reason that it was discovered is because I had such a thorough, wonderful gynecologist," Cross said in a 2020 interview with Coping Magazine. "I kind of owe her my life."

Because her cancer was discovered early, surgery was not recommended. Instead, Cross underwent six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy to shrink her tumors. The actor described the side effects of her treatment as "gnarly," but was grateful for the resources that helped prepare her for the realities of life during chemo. "I'm really happy with people that were really honest about it, because doctors like to play it down since they don't want you to freak out. But I did read a lot online, and I used the Anal Cancer Foundation's website, and they were pretty specific about things. So, I was kind of ready for what was to come."

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Now, she's warning others never to ignore signs from your body because of embarrassment.

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Cross's cancer has thankfully been in remission since 2018, with a reportedly low chance of recurrence. However, the actor is determined to use her own experience to prevent others from suffering a worse fate. In particular, she's warning others that they should never ignore signs of distress from their bodies if something feels abnormal. "If something doesn't feel right, listen to your body and talk to your doctor," Cross told People Magazine. "Don't let it go. It's a very curable cancer if caught early, which mine was."

Though Cross's cancer was discovered during a routine exam and this type of screening is a crucial tool in diagnosis, it's also important to look out for symptoms of anal cancer. These can include anal bleeding, pain, changes in bowel movements, itching, growths or masses, swollen lymph nodes, and more, according to the American Cancer Society.

She also wants to end the stigma surrounding anal cancer.

Marcia Cross
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Cross has another important message for those suffering from anal cancer: There's nothing to be ashamed of. "I want to help put a dent in the stigma around anal cancer," Cross told People. "I've read a lot of cancer survivor stories, and many people, women especially, were too embarrassed to say what kind of cancer they had. There is a lot of shame about it. I want that to stop," she said.

Cross says that while she initially "wasn't interested in becoming the anal cancer spokesperson," she's now intent on using her platform as an actor to educate others on her condition. She says that she came across many people—especially women—who were unwilling to discuss anal cancer, many of whom were "not given the follow up care they needed" because of their hesitance. By speaking openly about your symptoms or concerns, she says, you're more likely to get the treatment you need in a life-saving timeframe.

She adds that shame is an unnecessary added burden for those already dealing with a cancer diagnosis. "I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! You have to then also feel ashamed?" Cross said in a 2019 interview with CBS News. "Like you did something bad, you know because it took residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really," she scoffed.

Getting the HPV vaccine can prevent most cases of anal cancer.

Marcia Cross
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Another aspect of anal cancer that some find taboo is its association with HPV (human papillomavirus). Though Cross hadn't been diagnosed with HPV prior to her diagnosis, she later learned that this was most likely the cause for her cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 90 percent of anal cancers are caused by HPV, and most of these cases could be prevented with the HPV vaccine.

HPV has also been linked to several other types of cancer, including cervical, throat, and genital cancers. Speak with your doctor if you have not yet been screened and vaccinated for HPV, or if you notice any abnormal symptoms that could suggest cancer.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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