Picture a 50-year-old father and 20-year-old son playing tennis. One of them has testicular cancer but doesn’t know it. Chances are, it’s the son.
Testicular cancer is rare – it’s expected to be diagnosed in just 1% of men this year. However, it has the distinct characteristic of occurring most frequently among younger males – ages 15 to 35. In fact, it is the most common type of cancer for men in this age range. This is because most testicular cancers occur in the reproductive cells that make sperm, which many men produce more of at a younger age.
Fortunately, survival rates are high: just one in 5,000 men die from the disease, according to the National Foundation for Cancer Research. But to survive, the cancer has to be diagnosed and treated early. And men in their teens and 20s tend to be less likely to notice the symptoms.
The first step to doing so is think of the testicles as a part of the body that require regular “check-ups,” in the form of self-exams to detect anything out of the ordinary.
With April being Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to learn about self-exams.
First, Let’s Explain What Cancer Does
Testicular cancer occurs when cells in the testes reproduce abnormally and grow out of control, forming a tumor. More than 90% of testicular cancers form in the germ cells, or the cells that make sperm, the American Cancer Society estimates.
There are two subtypes of germ cell cancer: seminoma and nonseminoma. The latter often occurs in men in their late teens to early 30s.
Regardless of subtype, the causes of testicular cancer are unknown and many who test positive have no risk factors. However, some conditions may raise the odds of it developing, including an undescended testicle(s), HIV infection, abnormal testicular development, and/or a family history.
Symptoms of Testicular Cancer
The most common signs of testicular cancer include:
- Pain in one or both testicles
- Changes in the shape and/or size of the testicles
- A heavy feeling in the scrotum
- A dull pain or sense of pressure in the lower back, the abdomen, and/or the groin
- Several of these symptoms can be detected on one’s own.
Here’s How to Self-Examine Testicles
Self-exams should be performed monthly and can be easily done during a shower. Here’s what to do:
Cup one testicle and roll it between the thumb and fingers, look for changes in color, shape, or swelling. It’s normal for one testicle to be larger than the other, and expect to feel tubes and cords toward the back.
If worrisome symptoms appear, the patient should see a urologist for a blood test. The doctor may also order imaging or x-rays as well, including a CT scan or ultrasound.
In nearly all cases of testicular cancer, the affected testicle is removed, but this usually will not change a man’s ability to have an erection or sex. Someone who has had one testicle removed should still be able procreate because the remaining testicle can still produce sperm. A testicle prosthesis can restore a natural look.
These steps could save a life. The reason the survival rates of testicular cancer are so high is because the condition is highly treatable. Make no mistake, every one of the 1% of men diagnosed – fathers, sons, husbands, brothers – should seek that treatment. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor during Testicular Cancer Awareness Month by sharing this information with a young man.