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Marcia Cross continues efforts to dispel anal cancer stigma

Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney attend the 2017

Marcia Cross and Tom Mahoney attend the 2017 Gersh Emmy Party in Los Angeles. Credit: Getty Images for Gersh / Michael Kovac

Nine months after announcing she was in remission from anal cancer, actress Marcia Cross is continuing her efforts to dispel stigma about the disease.

"I know that there are people who are ashamed," the Emmy-nominated former "Desperate Housewives" star said on "CBS This Morning" Wednesday. "You have cancer! Do you have to then also feel ashamed, like you did something bad, because it took up residence in your anus? I mean, come on, really. There's enough on your plate."

Cross, 57, had been diagnosed during a routine gynecological examination, she told CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. Her doctor "kind of came around and said, 'Well, I just want you to know, whatever it is, it's curable.' You're just, like, 'What?! What are you talking about?' "

She was supported in her recovery from radiation and chemotherapy, she said, by "a bevy of girlfriends. I called them my 'anal angels.' …  I kept saying, 'If this doesn't kill me, it's, like, the best thing that could have ever happened,' because the experience of being loved like that, it blew my mind." She currently is "doing great. I feel back to normal, though it's a new normal. I don't think I'll ever take it for granted."

Cross has since learned that the same human papillomavirus (HPV) associated with her husband Tom Mahoney's throat cancer in 2009 can also cause anal carcinoma. The virus can be transmitted through sex or even simply skin-to-skin contact.

Mahoney has remained in remission following chemotherapy. Cross recalled of that time, "I would be, like, working all day. I would be in the emergency room at night. Plus, I had two toddlers. So it was, it was a busy time."

Urging people to ask their doctor for rectal examinations, the actress acknowledged, "You can say, 'OK, this is embarrassing, this is uncomfortable,' and by the time you know it, it's over. I mean, lots of things in life are not fun. But you can bear it."

She added that her and Mahoney's 12-year-old twin daughters will soon receive the HPV vaccine, which according to the CDC, can help prevent six types of cancer. HPV is thought to be responsible for more than 90 percent of anal and cervical cancers, about 70 percent of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and 60 percent of penile cancers. Additionally, 60-70 percent of cancers of the oropharynx (back of the throat) may be linked to HPV, according to the CDC.

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