Alright everybody, it’s Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. No kidding, that’s a real thing. When you stop giggling, let’s get to it.
This year, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 9,310 new cases of testicular cancer in the U.S., as well as 400 deaths.
While it is an uncommon type of cancer, testicular cancer is a serious condition that can spread throughout the body and become deadly. Luckily, when it’s caught early, it’s very treatable.
Catching testicular cancer early is the best way to prevent other complications. But catching it early means understanding your risk factors, getting regular physicals and performing monthly self-examinations.
Here are five more facts you should know about testicular cancer.
Treatments are very effective
Testicular cancer is very treatable, especially if you catch it in its early stages. In fact, the treatment for these “germ cell” cancers is a real success story for modern medicine.
To see if an abnormal mass discovered at a physical exam is worrisome, doctors will use tests like a biopsy or ultrasound. Once they determine whether you have cancer and, if you do, what stage it’s at, they can use that information to choose the best treatment for you.
Depending on your treatment needs, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy, radiation or another type of therapy. In severe cases, they may also recommend removing the affected testicle. Since your body can still function with one testicle, most men return to normal lives after surgery.
If the cancer does not spread beyond the testicle, patients have a 99 percent survival rate over five years. If it spreads throughout the body in the later stages, the survival rate over five years dips to 73 percent.
Monthly self-checks can save your life
During your annual well checkup, your doctor will look for signs of testicular cancer. However, monthly self-exams can increase your chances of an early diagnosis even more.
The best time to perform a self-exam is in the shower. Using your thumb, index and middle fingers, gently roll each testicle and feel for lumps. If you find a lump or notice that it feels different in any way, talk to your doctor.
Since testicular cancer normally does not cause other noticeable symptoms like pain, self-checks are important for monitoring your testicular health.
Younger men are at the highest risk
Unlike other cancers, old age isn’t a risk factor for testicular cancer.
While older men and children can still get testicular cancer, 50 percent of cases are in men between 20 and 34 years old. The average age of diagnosis is 33.
It’s still possible to have children
Treatments for testicular cancer, like radiation and chemotherapy, are toxic to your sperm cells. As a result, these treatments directly impact your fertility.
It’s important to think before treatment about whether you’d like to have kids in the future. If you do, or if you’re not sure, talk to your doctor about banking sperm. This can increase your chances of having children later.
It may take two years to get your sperm levels back to normal after treatment. However, one study shows that 48 percent of men were still fertile after treatment.
Injuries don’t increase your risk
You’ve probably heard that an injury to the testicles, such as a kick, can cause testicular cancer, but research suggests this isn’t true.
Studies have not shown that injuries to the testes increase your risk of testicular cancer. Activities with frequent impacts like horseback riding do not increase your risk either.
While researchers don’t know what causes testicular cancer, they have determined a list of risk factors.
You’re at a higher risk of testicular cancer if you have an undescended testicle, an HIV infection or if someone in your family has had testicular cancer.
If you or your doctor believe that you have testicular cancer, your doctor will run some tests. Only your doctor can confirm whether or not you have testicular cancer.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]