Call it one of life’s ironies: The average age when men reach their physical peaks (33) is the same year they are most likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer. Fortunately, it’s an irony we are increasingly able to deal with.
The American Cancer Society reports that about one of every 250 males develops testicular cancer during his lifetime, which makes it somewhat uncommon. Since it occurs among men at a young age, and is not highly prevalent, it is of greater risk of being overlooked.
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s give it a look. Following are six testicular cancer facts that will help you to better understand the disease and the male body.
Fact 1: It can strike at an older age. While testicular cancer is most likely to develop in young and middle-aged men, nearly 8% are among men older than 55.
Fact 2: It is among the most common “uncommon” cancers. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males aged 15 to 34. Education, including how to perform a self-examination (see below), should start early.
Fact 3: It frequently comes from germs (but not the kind you think). Most testicular cancers develop in the germ cells, or reproductive cells, which produce sperm. There are two types of germ cell cancers: seminomas, which typically are slower growing; and non-seminomas, which grow more quickly. Tumors may include both cells.
Fact 4: Other things grow in there. The testicles can host a lot of other growths that are not cancerous. Among them are hydroceles (fluid-filled sacs), varicoceles (enlarged veins in the scrotum) and spermatoceles (painless cysts in the epididymis).
Fact 5: Men can still use the “do not disturb” sign. Testicular cancer tends to occur in just one testicle, which may be removed as part of treatment. However, the other testicle will often still be able to produce enough hormones to support a healthy sex drive. The removal of a testicle will not affect the ability to have an erection, though it can diminish fertility.
Fact 6: We can outlive it! If detected early, the prognosis for testicular cancer recovery is excellent. The lifetime risk of dying from this cancer is only about 1 in 5,000, because treatment is so effective.
Test Time: How to Perform a Self-Exam
Staying ahead of testicular cancer means detecting it and understanding the factors that put men at higher risk. These factors include a family history of the disease, one or two undescended testicles, and Klinefelter syndrome (a genetic disorder that causes low testosterone levels).
Self-exams should be performed monthly even if these risks are not present. All a man needs is a shower and two hands. Here’s how:
1. Using both hands, cup one testicle at a time.
2. With a slight bit of pressure, roll the testicle between the thumb and fingers. One should familiarize himself with the cords and tubes at the back of the testicles to know the landscape.
3. Feel for lumps, irregularities or a change in size. Note that it’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other.
In all, it should take just a few minutes. The key is to perform self-exams on a regular basis, like the first of every month, so any changes are easy to recognize. If inconsistencies are detected, contact a urologist right away.
To learn more about testicular cancer, visit our page on the condition.