You can describe testicular cancer as the thunderbolt of male maladies. It affects less than 1% of the population, yet when it does strike, the results can be devastating –if undetected.
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, when all men (and women) should learn more about recognizing and treating this less prevalent, and therefore less thought about, disease. In fact, I recommend you pay close attention for signs of testicular cancer year round, especially if you are younger than 40.
Just ask actor Erich Bergen of Jersey Boys, gold medalist Scott Hamilton and the rapper Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas. They all survived testicular cancer.
Though not common, it develops in just one of every 250 men in their lifetimes, according to the American Cancer Society, testicular cancer is typically a young man’s disease; the average diagnosis age is 33. This makes detection a challenge because those affected are usually in the primes of their lives, not thinking about serious illness.
Yet checking for this cancer is so easy, and it’s so highly treatable when found early. So, there’s no excuse not to squeeze in a self-exam once a month.
How to Perform a Self-Exam
Testicular cancer occurs when the cells in the testes reproduce at an accelerated rate, resulting in a malignant mass.
Though the cause is not clear, several factors can increase the risk. These include a family history of the disease; one or two undescended testicles; and a genetic disorder called Klinefelter syndrome, a condition marked by two or more X chromosomes that results in low testosterone levels and other symptoms.
If any of these factors apply to you or a loved one, it’s time turn on the shower.
The process for detecting testicular cancer is fast and painless, but it should be regular so you can spot the difference between what is normal and not. These monthly self-exams are best performed in a warm shower, where one can comfortably feel for irregularities such as hard lumps or nodules. If any inconsistencies are detected, see your urologist right away.
Know the Symptoms
Even if your self exams check out, be aware of other symptoms of testicular cancer, the most common being pain in one or both testicles, changes in their size or shape and pressure in the lower back, belly and/or groin.
Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the affected area, which the physician will exam to plan post-surgery care. This could range from simple surveillance (if the cancer is found early) to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, the physician may also remove potentially cancerous lymph nodes.
The lifetime risk of dying from testicular cancer is just one in 5,000, with odds improving the sooner it is detected. So yes, you may be as likely to get struck by testicular cancer as by lightning, but why risk it? Just as we seek shelter in electrical storms, we can provide coverage against the disease with a five-minute self-exam. If present, it can be treated early.
To learn more about testicular cancer and treatment, watch this video.