But isn’t all cancer scary?
Cancer can be scary enough. But for a man, hearing that he has testicular cancer may be even scarier than having another form of cancer. Guys are fairly protective about that area.
Since April is Testicular Cancer Awareness month, it’s a good time to talk frankly about this disease that the American Cancer Society (ACS) predicts about 9,310 men will get in 2018. That’s one of three important things men should keep in mind about this type of cancer: it is rare, you can do a routine self-exam to catch it early, and it is highly curable.
For most men, testicular cancer is synonymous with Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist who won seven Tour de France events after he had, and recovered from, testicular cancer. Armstrong, who later had to give up those victories due to doping, is still a strong advocate for awareness about the disease.
Armstrong has said he was more proud of beating testicular cancer than he was of beating all other competitors in all of his many races. His Livestrong Foundation offers good resources for men who have it.
One thing Armstrong didn’t do right was to ignore the warning signs he experienced for some time.
Do you have a concern about your testicles? Make an appointment and have us evaluate your situation.
Testicular cancer is serious, but it may not be as scary as it sounds
These statistics provided by the ACS may take some of the fear out of this disease.
- One in 250 men will develop testicular cancer at some time in their lives
- Only 1 in 5,000 will die from it (an estimated 400 in 2018)
- Average age of diagnosis is 33
- The five-year survival rate of a localized cancer in a testicle is 99 percent
- The five-year survival rate of testicular cancer that has spread to other organs or lymph nodes is 73 percent
If you don’t know much about cancer, trust me, those are promising numbers. And if you know about testicular cancer symptoms, you’ll be a step ahead in asking your doctor questions and catching testicular cancer early – a key factor in curing it.
Testicular cancer symptoms
The American Cancer Society says that if a man notices any change in his testicles, he should seek medical help. Myself and the other urologists at Pacific Urology are specifically trained to diagnose this form of cancer. If you have one of the symptoms below, it may or may not be due to testicular cancer. Only a doctor can determine that with an examination.
If you have one of these signs, seeking help as soon as possible is very important. Symptoms to look out for are:
- A lump in the testicles that doesn’t cause pain; this is the most common symptom
- Sometimes a tumor in the testicle can cause pain
- The testicle swells or becomes larger
- An ache in the scrotum or lower belly, or a feeling of heaviness in those places.
Testicular cancer not detected early can spread beyond the testicles. Sometimes this does not result in other symptoms, sometimes it results in the following:
- If it has spread to the lymph nodes, pain in the lower back or abdominal distension
- If it has spread to the lungs, shortness of breath, coughing and chest pain
- Abdominal pain if it has spread to the liver or lymph nodes
- If it has spread to the brain, confusion, vision changes or headaches.
All of the symptoms above may also be a sign of another problem besides testicular cancer. These conditions include an injury, testicular torsion, hydrocele, bladder or urinary tract infection, kidney stones and inguinal hernia.
Self-examining your testicles
Much like women can do a self-exam for breast cancer, men can do a self-exam for testicular cancer. I recommend that men do a self-exam once a month, particularly men who have one of the risk factors listed below.
You need to be aware that it is normal for one testicle to be larger than the other, or for the testicles to be at different heights. Also, each testicle has an epididymis that is a small tube that can feel like a little bump on the upper or middle side of the testicle. Blood vessels and other tissue sometimes can seem like bumps. With practice, you’ll get to know how your testicles normally feel, so you’ll notice changes.
Here’s how to do a self-exam:
- You’ll be looking for changes in testicle size and shape, as well as smooth bumps that are round or hard lumps
- Conduct your exam during a warm bath or shower, because your scrotum is relaxed then
- Move your penis out of the way and check one of your testicles
- Gently roll it between the thumbs and fingers of both hands, feeling it all over
- Repeat with the other testicle.
Find something? Contact us to make an appointment, and don’t put it off.
Risk factors for testicular cancer
As with many other cancers, some men are more at risk for testicular cancer than others. I’m listing risk factors below, but you should know that having a risk factor, or more than one, doesn’t mean you’ll get testicular cancer. In fact, most men and boys (a low percentage of testicular cancer patients are boys) who have testicular cancer had no risk factors.
Testicular cancer risk factors
- Undescended testicle
- Previous case of testicular cancer
- Family history of it
- White men have a 4 to 5 times higher risk of getting testicular cancer than do African-American or Asian-American men (we don’t know why)
- Carcinoma in situ, which is a noninvasive form of testicular germ cell cancer
- Having had an HIV infection.
The research on other possible risk factors, such as previous damage to a testicle, large body size or repeated strenuous exercise like horseback riding (and cycling), is inconclusive. More research on those factors is needed.
With the relative rareness of testicular cancer, your self-exams and my thorough exam to catch testicular cancer early, you should have nothing to worry about.