In general, guys do not think about their testicles on a day-to-day basis. Unless we have some pain or feel an abnormality, we let them go on with their day. The testicles actually are very important to the male body. The testicles serve as a factory for sperm production, which is important for fertility. The testicles also are a main driving force for the amount of testosterone that circulates throughout your body. Both of these functions are crucial to us as guys.
One thing is clear: The testicles are not immune from cancer. In fact, one in 250 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer, and it is the most common cancer in the age group of 15-35. April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, and this year alone more than 9,000 men will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
When caught early and treated, life expectancy rates are high and most guys live their lives without much worry, which is why awareness is so important. Screening for testicular cancer does not require any sophisticated labs or imaging studies. Most screening for testicular cancer can actually be done by you. Yes, you. By examining your testicles at least once a month, you are able to screen for most testicular cancers.
The key to screening actually starts with you knowing what's normal and abnormal. On your exam, you should examine essentially every part of the testicle, top to bottom and even navigate your way up the cord itself. I generally recommend my patients check themselves on the first day of the month in the shower when the scrotum is relaxed. Go ahead and examine yourself and make sure you know when something becomes abnormal. If you do notice an abnormality or are concerned about something, you should definitely get yourself checked out by a medical professional. The medical professional can either confirm what you found on exam or order imaging and lab studies to help figure out whether this is cancer or something benign, meaning something that's a normal variant in your testicle.
What You Should Look For
There may be some other symptoms of testicular cancer that may be present without any change to your testicle itself. One of those uncommon symptoms may be a heavy feeling in your testicles or in the lower part of your belly—even back pain. That feeling of pressure in your testicles or in your groin or your lower abdomen may be a sign of either enlarged lymph nodes or food collections secondary to the actual cancer itself. The other way is that you may not actually feel a hard lump in your testicle, but you may notice that one testicle may be larger or smaller than the other. If the cancer has migrated to other parts of your body, you may notice abnormal swelling in your legs. This swelling could be from your lymph channels being blocked, or it could also be the cancer increasing your chance of blood clots. Another abnormal symptom of testicular cancer may be enlarging breast tissue, or gynecomastia. As a guy, if you do have any of these symptoms or any abnormality that you just feel is not right, it's probably a good time to go and talk to your healthcare professional. This doesn't mean if you're outside the ages of 15-35 you're not going to get it because any guy at any age is still at risk for testicular cancer. The risk is just not as high, but it is still present.
You Have Testicular Cancer, Now What?
So what if you do get diagnosed with testicular cancer? Is it the end of the world? Not really. Because if you look at statistics from testicular cancer, it has a 96 percent cure rate if caught early. Treatment options may include removal of your testicle. Based on what pathology is found in the testicle, your doctor may recommend further treatments, which could include radiation or chemotherapy.
A lot of patients ask, “okay, what can I do other than examine myself to prevent me getting testicular cancer?” There are certain known risk factors that do put you at higher risk for testicular cancer. Those include family history. So if you have a brother or father who had testicular cancer then you are at a little bit higher risk of getting it. Also, studies have shown if you smoke marijuana, then you may increase your chances of testicular cancer. There are also some links with testicular cancer and your occupation. There are occupations such as miners, food processing workers, utility workers and other workers who may be at an elevated risk of testicular cancer. So on April 1, when we start Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, don't fool yourself into thinking that you are immune to cancers because of your young age. None of us are immune.
About the author:
Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, MD, is a board-certified urologist and medical advisor for Men's Health Network. He is currently practicing at the Florida-based PUR Clinic and is also the co-founder of the Drive 4 Men’s Health, a multi-day public engagement road trip that has encouraged millions of men to eat better, get active, and engage in preventative medical screenings. Men's Health Network (MHN) is 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, and patient navigation. Learn more about MHN at www.menshealthnetwork.org and follow them on Twitter @MensHlthNetwork or Facebook at www.facebook.com/menshealthnetwork.