Testicular cancer is of particular concern for young men as it is the most common type of cancer in men ages 15 to 35. It is less common in middle-aged and older men.
But because it accounts for only about 1 percent of all cancers in men, many people have never heard of this type of cancer.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a small, painless lump in a testicle or a slightly enlarged testicle. It is important for men to become familiar with the size and feeling of their normal testicles, so that they can detect changes if they occur.
Other possible symptoms include a feeling of heaviness in the ***, a dull ache in the lower stomach or groin, a change in the way a testicle feels, or a sudden accumulation of blood or fluid in the ***.
A simple procedure called testicular self-exam (TSE) can increase your chances of finding a tumor early.
Men should perform TSE once a month, after a warm bath or shower. The heat causes the scrotal skin to relax, making it easier to find anything unusual. TSE is simple and only takes a few minutes.
Testicular cancer is no laughing matter. It is estimated to strike about 8,090 men this year in the United States, and about 380 men will die from the disease. Despite its low ranking – as it only accounts for about 1 percent of all cancers in men – testicular cancer is on a steady incline, having risen 67 percent between 1973 and 1999.
It recently received some welcome media exposure when 24-year old Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau declared he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer just one week before leaving for this year’s U.S. Olympic trials.
What is Testicular Cancer?
Testicular cancer forms in the tissues of your testis (the egg-shaped glands inside your scrotum that produce sperm and male hormones). Since testicular cancer strikes men at a younger age than most other cancers, it’s important to develop the habit of doing self-examinations at an early age.
The two main types of testicular cancer are:
- Seminomas: Cancers that grow slowly and respond well to radiation therapy
- Nonseminomas: Different cell types that grow more quickly than seminomas
Risk Factors for Developing Testicular Cancer
Increased risk of testicular cancer has been linked with:
- Family history of testicular cancer
- DES exposure
- Exposure to abnormal levels of estrogen before birth (in utero)
- Undescended testicles (which is also associated with DES exposure)
For those of you who haven’t heard about DES; that was another shining example of conventional drugs causing more harm than good as it has turned into a tragic long-term disaster. The effects of this pharmaceutical “wonder drug” are still felt today.
Synthetic Estrogen Causing Second- and Third Generation Cancers
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic estrogen that was first manufactured in a laboratory in 1938.
Between 1938 and 1971, DES was prescribed by physicians for pregnant women to prevent miscarriages and avoid other pregnancy problems. The rationale was that some pregnant women did not produce enough estrogen naturally, and physicians thought that if they gave women extra estrogen, the problem would be solved -- despite the fact that research published in 1953 showed clearly that DES did NOT prevent miscarriages or premature births.
It is estimated that between five and 10 million pregnant women were prescribed DES before 1971, at which time the FDA finally issued a Drug Bulletin advising physicians to stop prescribing it for pregnant women. Their decision was based on a 1971 study that identified DES as the cause of a rare vaginal cancer in young girls and women who had been exposed to DES in utero.
And although DES has not been given to pregnant women in more than 30 years, its effects continue to be seen today.
Men whose mothers took DES during pregnancy have an increased risk for genital abnormalities and an increased risk of both prostate and testicular cancer.
In the last few years “third generation” DES children have also begun to be studied. So far the results are preliminary. Two studies of DES granddaughters (third generation females) have found no health effects related to DES exposure.
However, one small study of DES grandsons showed an increased risk of hypospadias, a defect in the position of the urethral opening in your penis.
Unfortunately, a majority of women never even realized they received this synthetic estrogen. DES drugs were manufactured using many different trade labels—more than 75 of them! For a complete list, you can refer to the chart on the CDC’s website.
Sadly, there is no medical test that can detect DES exposure. However, you can use an Interactive DES Self-Assessment Guide, and the CDC website also provides information about what you can do if you suspect you were exposed.
Determining your exposure is important because all DES-exposed persons have an increased risk for developing health problems compared to those who have not been exposed.
How To Perform a Testicular Self-Exam
Fortunately, performing a TSE is quite simple, and teenage boys are well advised to adopt the habit early on.
Examine each testicle gently with both hands. Your index and middle fingers should be placed underneath your testicle while your thumbs are placed on the top.
Roll your testicle gently between your thumbs and fingers. One testicle may be larger than the other, which is perfectly normal.
- Feel for any abnormal lumps, about the size of pea, on the front, or the side of your testicle. These are usually painless. The epididymis is a cord-like structure on the top back of the testicle that stores and transports the sperm. Don’t confuse the epididymis with an abnormal lump.
- If you do find a lump, you should contact your doctor right away. The lump may be due to an infection, but if it’s not an infection, it is likely to be cancer.
Remember, testicular cancer is highly curable, especially when detected and treated early.
So, follow the advice in the above commercial, and check ‘em often.
For more information about my general guidelines for preventing ALL types of cancer, please review the articles listed below.
Illustration Credit: ActionCancer.org