April is testicular cancer awareness month, and as a six year survivor of this disease, I can tell you a few things about testicular cancer.
The first is that contrary to what people might expect, testicular cancer is actually the #1 form of cancer in men ages 15-44 internationally, yet almost no one talks about the disease. It’s sad and frustrating that 20 years after the founding of a very famous organization in yellow by a now very infamous testicular cancer survivor, that we still have to struggle so hard for any sort of public awareness about this disease. Testicular cancer in young men is about as common as breast cancer is in young women, yet no one ever talks about testicular cancer! In the U.S. alone, someone is diagnosed with testicular cancer every hour, and someone dies of this disease every day.
With an overall cure rate of over 90%, testicular cancer is a highly curable cancer, but it should never be considered an easy or a “good” cancer. Testicular cancer tends to be a pretty fast growing and aggressive form of cancer, and must be hit equally aggressively in order to get that cure. Orchiectomy alone, removal of the stricken testicle, can be enough to cure many Stage I patients, but the primary chemotherapy protocols and surgeries that are commonly used to treat people with metastatic disease are pretty rough, and can leave many additional physical and mental marks on people.
Regardless of the stage of the disease at diagnosis, testicular cancer is not an easy cancer to get through simply because of the younger men that it tends to strike. My 33 year-old self was unaccustomed to ever having anything more than the flu, and still believed that I was invincible and going to live forever. This loss of innocence and suddenly feeling so vulnerable at the prime of my life shattered my confidence. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are common, and posttraumatic stress to varying degrees is certainly not unheard of, either. Another thing that young men aren’t typically accustomed to doing, is asking for help when they need it. The rarity of young adult cancers can tend to leave survivors feeling very isolated and lost, which is why finding support from the young adult cancer community is essential. Regardless of gender or cancer type, young adults tend to face so many of the same inner struggles after a cancer fight. No one needs to fight alone.
There are a few risk factors for testicular cancer that include an undescended testicle, a family history of the disease, and being Caucasian, but most testicular cancer diagnoses simply come down to bad luck. Signs and symptoms include a painless lump or any change in size or any irregularity in the testicles. Pain or discomfort in the testicles, or any pressure sensitivity is certainly a potential sign, along with a dull ache or a sense of pressure in the lower back, abdomen, or groin. More advanced signs include significant weight loss, back or chest pain and coughing or difficulty breathing, and enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen or neck.
Because testicular cancer isn’t preventable, monthly testicular self-exams are recommended for all men, and boys starting at 13. There are some groups out there that say not to bother, given that testicular cancer is so curable at any stage. This is terrible advice. Don’t listen to it. Just because a cancer has a high overall cure rate, doesn’t mean you should ignore any signs or symptoms until you have very advanced stage disease. I was lucky in that I actually had pain in my testicle that clued me in that something wasn’t right, and a thorough self-exam found the solid mass. Not everybody does, and that painless lump can quickly turn into a very dangerous advanced stage cancer in just a matter of months. Poor risk testicular cancer has a 50/50 cure rate, no better than a coin toss! Why leave your life up to a coin toss?
Believe me when I say that if you’re going to develop testicular cancer, you’re much better off catching it an early stage rather than late, as you’ll avoid significant trauma to both mind and body if you’re able to avoid some of the harsh treatments and surgeries that are used to cure metastatic testicular cancer.
There’s nothing to lose with a regular feel down below, and it could save your life.