Overcoming taboos, embarrassment with a testicular cancer diagnosis

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

Marc LaVoie
April 23, 2018 - 6:07 am
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It may be the scariest diagnosis for a young man, and doctors want to dispel some myths for April, Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. 

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among males 18 to 35 years of age, but it is still relatively uncommon, with about 8,000 new cases per year in the U.S. 

It can be difficult to convince men to take the disease seriously and practice self-examination. Men typically avoid talking about health issues below the belt. 

Women, however, do a much better job of getting preventative care, said Dr. Ajay Nangia, professor and vice-chair of urology at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

"Young women are taught from a young age about breast exams, and pap smears and having their periods, normal female stuff," Dr. Nangia said. "We as men generally live in a world of denial."

Men should know testicular cancer is among the most treatable cancers. About 95 to 98 percent of patients survive the cancer. Because sperm count can go down with the loss of a testicle, doctors recommend patients make a deposit in a sperm bank for future fatherhood. 

About three percent of men who are diagnosed with testicular cancer get it in a second testicle. Even for men who have lost both testicles, life can go on normally. There are cosmetic replacements for the testicles and a man's sex life and vitality can go on normally with testosterone replacement therapy.

"And they're not going to be any less of a man with no testicles because of the testosterone," Nangia said. "They will have to be on testosterone probably for the rest of their life."

As with all cancers, early detection is key. Sometimes men ignore symptoms, as in the case of champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong, who, Dr. Nangia said, waited until he was in a lot of pain before getting himself checked.

Sometimes even doctors fail to check their male patients.

"To examine down there is embarrassing," Dr. Nangia said. "Doctors often don't do that part of the examine, which they need to, probably more routinely."

Self-examination is key to early detection of testicular cancer. Men should feel around for anything unusual.

"Most commonly it can be a painless mass in the testicle, a little hard lump, but it could have pain," Dr. Nangia said.

Above all, Dr. Nangia wants men to know that men's health issues should never be treated as taboo, shameful of embarrassing. 

"Sexual stuff is normal," Dr. Nangia said. "It's what we all do, it's how we got on this earth, through sex."

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