Did you know that the most common form of cancer in boys and young men ages 15-35 is almost entirely curable if caught early? And did you know that awareness and screening are the most effective ways to fight that disease? Now that you know, how would you like to help spread the word?
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and now’s the perfect opportunity to make sure that the men and boys in your life learn everything they can about testicular cancer.
Testicular cancer is relatively rare, accounting for only about one percent of all male cancers. Caucasian males are more likely than African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics to develop the disease. But overall, it’s the most common form of cancer among boys and men between 15 and 35 years old, with an average age at diagnosis of about 33. This year, in the U.S. alone, more than 9,600 males will be diagnosed with testicular cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 440 will die. And over the past few decades, the incidence rate has been steadily increasing.
The good news is that testicular cancer, if caught early, has a 99 percent, five-year survival rate. But the bad news is that, in general, men and boys are far less likely than women and girls to have regular contact with a health care provider. That makes early diagnosis of testicular cancer—and most other potentially serious health conditions—extremely difficult. As a result, too many cancers aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late, which helps explain why cancer mortality rates for men are notably higher than for women.
The most effective way to reduce the number of deaths from testicular cancer is to educate boys and young men (and those who love them) about the importance of doing regular testicular self-exams and recognizing the symptoms of the disease. A number of high-profile male athletes and celebrities have gone public about their battles with testicular cancer. World Champion figure skater, Scott Hamilton, is one of those survivors, and he says that early detection is key. “I knew something was different and didn’t do anything. For a long time. By the time I found out why, I was Stage 3 (out of 4). You know your body. Self-examination is easy and takes very little time. Getting to cancer early is still the best way to survive.”
Men’s Health Network (MHN), an international non-profit organization whose mission is to reach men, boys, and their families where they live, work, play, and pray with health awareness messages and tools, screening programs, educational materials, advocacy opportunities, encourages all young men ages 15-35 to regularly perform testicular self-exams, and if they feel a lump or a bump or anything out of the ordinary, to tell someone and see a doctor immediately. Early symptoms of the disease can be mild, which often causes many to delay seeking medical attention.
Ana Tomsic, MPH, CHES, VP of MHN, emphasizes the importance of early detection and education, saying, “The earlier, the better. If we are able to provide resources and education to that younger population, and reduce the stigma surrounding testicular cancer, we will be able to empower men to take charge of their health and know that when something seems wrong or off, they need to get it checked out.”
Educating boys and young men about testicular cancer has other benefits as well, according to Darrell Sabbs, Community Benefits Coordinator at the Phoebe Putney Health System in Georgia. “Talking with them about testicular cancer—which we often do by talking about the impact it could have on their sex lives—opens up an opportunity for other health-related conversations, such as prostate cancer,” he says. “That helps them overcome some of the barriers to care that so many of them experience and increases the chance that they’ll pay more attention to their own health over the lifespan.”
Treating testicular cancer typically involves one or more of the following: surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. Many young men who get diagnosed with testicular cancer worry that those treatments might make it impossible for them to become dads. Fortunately, that’s not true. Several recent studies suggest that while chemotherapy or radiation may decrease sperm counts during treatment, fertility typically returns within two years.
Sadly, we still don’t understand what causes testicular cancer in the first place or whether there are any environmental or behavioral factors that might increase or decrease one’s risk.
So as Testicular Cancer Awareness Month gets underway, I encourage all young men to take their health into their own hands. Literally. If you’re in a relationship, you and your partner can examine each other (women should be doing monthly breast exams). If you or your partner finds something that doesn’t feel right, make an appointment with a health care provider. For more information and resources about testicular cancer and other male-specific health issues, search (testicular cancer awareness month).