For years we've stressed to women the importance of an annual breast examination for the detection of cancer. Yet today little attention is paid to examination of the male testicles. It's time for women to remind their mates that what is good medicine for the goose is also good medicine for the gander. Routine testicular self-examination (TSE) is the answer.
Dr. Joel Brenner, assistant professor of sports medicine at the University of Georgia, says, "There is a taboo about talking about the testicles, unlike breasts and mammograms that are discussed on prime-time television."
Yet cancer of the testicles is one of the most treatable cancers. The case of Lance Armstrong is the best example. In 1996, this world-class athlete and five-time winner of the Tour de France (before those accolades were stricken from the record book due to doping) ignored early symptoms of groin soreness. Later, he began to suffer from headaches and blurry vision. The diagnosis? Testicular cancer that had spread to many parts of his body.
Testicular cancer rates have been rising, 42 per cent in the past 25 years. Currently it's the most common malignancy in males between 15 to 35 years of age
Armstrong decided to fight his malignancy and underwent an aggressive course of treatment. Surgeons removed the cancerous testicle followed by chemotherapy. Just one year later, Armstrong was pronounced free of cancer.
Dr. Brenner says testicular cancer rates have been rising, 42 per cent in the past 25 years. Currently it's the most common malignancy in males between 15 to 35 accounting for 20 per cent of cancers in this age group.
It's not known why this malignancy is on the rise. But we do know that testicles that remain after birth in the abdomen and fail to descend into the scrotum are at high risk. White males have five times the risk of black males. And if there's a family history of this malignancy, the risk is increased.
Like cancer of the breast, early testicular malignancy has no symptoms. This may even be the case when cancer has totally replaced the testicle. But as the cancer increases patients may complain of weight or a pulling sensation in the scrotal area. Pain may also be caused by bleeding into the tumour or a blockage of blood in the testicle.
It's not easy to make an early diagnosis of breast cancer. If it were easy, fewer women would die from this disease. Diagnosis is difficult because many breasts have small cystic areas making it hard to separate benign from malignant lumps even with the help of mammography.
This isn't the case with egg-shaped testicles that secrete hormones and produce sperm. They should feel as smooth and firm as a hard-boiled egg without a shell, making it easier to detect small lumps by TSE.
The prime time for TSE is while taking a warm bath or shower. By gently picking up each testicle between the thumb and fingers the surfaces can be explored for lumps. And any lump or irregularity should be reported to the doctor.
But even though testicles are easy to feel, most men have little or no knowledge of their anatomy. There can be confusion unless they know testicles consist of two parts, the testicle itself and the epididymis.
The epididymis is the soft tube-like structure situated at the rear of the testicle. It's the part that accumulates sperm and carries it to the outside.
Lumps in the epididymis are quite common. They may be the size of a pea or larger but usually of little importance. Lumps in the testicle are more serious.
The most common form of testicular cancer, called seminoma, accounts for 50 per cent of cases. It spreads slowly and is easy to cure by surgery if diagnosed early. Slow growing seminomas also respond well to radiation if they have spread to lymph nodes.
Prior to treating a young man for testicular cancer he is usually advised to bank his sperm. These frozen sperm can then be used at a later time if he becomes infertile.
Testicular cancer is devastating news to men in the prime of life. But TSE can save their lives. And if women can submit to annual pelvic examinations, is it asking too much of males to feel their own testicles?
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