What You Should Know: Testicular Cancer
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Testicular cancer is a huge threat for all men across the world, especially for those in the prime of their lives (20-54 years). There are over 8,000 new diagnoses made in the United States alone each year and approximately 1 in every 270 men will get it at some point in their lives. The good news, however, is that and treatment of testicular has some of the highest success rates out of all cancers: almost 99%. However, like other forms of cancer, the chances of successful treatment are greatly increased by catching it at an early stage. This means being aware of the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer and knowing what to look for.
Part of knowing how to prevent testicular cancer is being aware of its ‘risk factors’: certain things that you do or things that happen to you which could increase your risk of testicular cancer. Statistics suggest that men who have had an undescended testicle have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer. In fact, the majority of cancers develop in the testicle of men who had an undescended testicle as a child. The correlation between the disorder and the disease has led to the conclusion that suffering from an undescended testicle may cause testicular cancer later in life. This has been rejected by some doctors, but it nevertheless, men whose testicles didn’t descend normally should accept of the possibility of an increased chance of developing testicular cancer.
Scientific studies suggest that the risk of developing testicular cancer is increased if your father or brother was also diagnosed with it. Men who were previously diagnosed with cancer in one testicle should be even more wary as they will have a greater chance (by about 3-4%) of developing cancer in the other testicle too. Scientific studies on the link between tobacco use and testicular cancer are limited but, like most other forms of cancer, the existing evidence suggests that a history of smoking is associated with an increased risk of testicular cancer.
Signs and symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms related to testicular cancer that can easily be spotted as long as you are aware of what to look for. The most common and well-known sign to look for is a lump in the testis: this may be painful or painless and a cancerous lump should feel hard and solid rather than soft, almost like it is made of wood. Other possible symptoms of testicular cancer include: pain or aching in the scrotum or lower abdomen as well as a general feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. If you find yourself suffering from one or more of these symptoms, it is imperative that you seek a medical opinion and a thorough examination from a doctor.
The practise of routine testicular self-exams is controversial and has led to a polarization of responses from medical professionals. While regularly examining one’s own testicles was unanimously recommended in the past, some scientific studies suggest that routine self-examination leads to little or no decrease in the rate of mortality from testicular cancer. This is mainly because of the already very high success rate of testicular cancer treatment, even in very advanced stages. As a result of this, some organizations now actively discourage the practice of self examination due to its ineffectiveness and the potentially emotionally negative consequences of false-positive results. The American Cancer Society, however, acknowledges that many doctors encourage monthly self-examinations and the organization states that all men -- in particular those with a family history of testicular cancer or other risk factors -- should certainly consider the possibility of self-examination.
If you do choose to examine your testicles for lumps, the best time to do so if straight after a bath or shower as this is when the skin of the scrotum is softest and most relaxed and therefore easier to examine. Begin by holding the penis out of the way and feeling one testicle and then the other, rather than both at the same time. When examining a testicle, hold it in both hands between the thumbs and the fingers and roll it gently between the fingers. While examining, you are looking for the feel of any hard lumps or nodules or indeed any change in the testes. In order to fully achieve the latter, it is important to be familiar with your testicles – this means a rough idea of the shape, size, weight and consistency of the testes – which is why regular self-examination can be so helpful.
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