Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross has told how her anal cancer — picked up during a routine gynaecologist visit — is linked to her husband's throat cancer diagnosis.

The 57-year-old actress says the human papillomavirus (HPV) strain that caused her anal cancer is likely the same strain that led to her husband being diagnosed with throat cancer.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Cross, who wants to break the stigma surrounding the disease, said she was visiting her gynaecologist in November 2017 when the doctor noticed something suspicious during a rectal exam.

She was referred to a colon and rectal surgeon and, after two biopsies, she was diagnosed with anal cancer.

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Cross said doctors later told her the cancer was likely linked to HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, and the same strain had caused her husband Tom Mahoney's throat cancer in 2009.

Marcia Cross is known for playing Bree in Desperate Housewives. Photo / supplied
Marcia Cross is known for playing Bree in Desperate Housewives. Photo / supplied

Cross, 57, told CBS This Morning that she credits her annual rectal exam with saving her life.

"You can say: 'Okay this is embarrassing, this is uncomfortable' and by time you know it, it's over,' she said. "I mean lots of things in life are not fun. But you can bear it."

Cross said she hoped to break the taboo around anal cancer in order to help others.

"I know there are people who are ashamed. You have cancer! You have to then also feel ashamed?" she told medical contributor Dr Jon LaPook.

"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."

Cross, who charmed audiences as perfectionist Bree Van de Kamp in Desperate Housewives, underwent six weeks of radiation therapy and two weeks of chemotherapy.

Marcia Cross (right) starred with Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives. Photo / supplied
Marcia Cross (right) starred with Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher and Eva Longoria in Desperate Housewives. Photo / supplied

Cross told CBS she planned to vaccinate her 12-year-old twin daughters Eden and Savannah against HPV later this month.

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Anal cancer occurs when cancerous cells form in the tissues of the anus.

Hollywood star Farrah Fawcett tragically died of the disease in 2015 at the age of 62.

Symptoms include bleeding from the anus or rectum, discharge from the anus, pain around at the anus and a change in bowel habits.

HPV has been linked to numerous other cancers — including cervical, prostate and throat cancer — and it is spread through sex or oral sex with someone who has the virus, or skin-to-skin contact.