By Scott Tibbs -- Printed in the Herald-Times, March 18, 2007
It was the week before spring break 1997, 10 years ago. Like thousands of other college students, I was looking forward to relaxing for a week before getting back and finishing up the semester. I would not come back to finish the semester, however.
Over the previous couple weeks, I had noticed something was wrong. One of my testicles was swollen and significantly larger than the other one. A few years earlier, my brother-in-law’s younger brother had died of testicular cancer, so all the men in the family were educated about the warning signs of the disease. I knew that I would need to take a trip to my doctor when I got back. The signs were clear enough that I knew I had cancer, so I was more than a little stressed on the final day of classes before vacation. By Friday of spring break, I was in Parkview Hospital having an inguinal orchiectomy.
Thankfully, the surgeon got all of the cancer when he removed the diseased organ. Ten years later, I am still cancer-free. When caught early, as mine was, testicular cancer has a survival rate of over 95 percent, according to www.nih.gov. Even if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the survival rate is over 90 percent, according to www.cancer.org. As with any cancer, the chances of survival go down significantly if the cancer is allowed to spread.
The good news is that testicular cancer, unlike some other cancers, shows warning signs that can be noticed by laymen. According to health.rutgers.edu, these warning signs include:
- A lump in the testicle
- Change in the consistency of the testicle
- Enlargement of the testicle
- Heavy feeling in the testes
- Pain in the testicles (not always associated with cancer)
- Swelling or tenderness of the breast
- Swelling, hardening, or painful inguinal lymph nodes.
The two general types of testicular cancer are seminoma and non-seminoma. Seminoma cancers are vulnerable to radiation (basically a very high dose of X-rays), so they are easier to treat. Radiation is not effective against non-seminoma cancers, so a second surgery may be needed to check the abdominal lymph nodes. Chemotherapy is quite effective against non-seminoma testicular cancer. One sign of non-seminoma cancer is an unusually high level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the blood. AFP is a hormone normally associated with pregnancy.
The number of new testicular cancer cases is fairly small: medicinenet.com states that there are between 7,000 to 8,000 new cases annually. If Monroe County follows the national trend, there would be between 1.4 and 1.6 cases of testicular cancer annually, assuming that half of the approximately 120,000 people in Monroe are male. It is possible, therefore, that someone reading this column could contract testicular cancer this year.
TC is the most common form of cancer for men between the ages of 15 and 35 years old, however, and can strike any man at any age. It is essential, therefore, for men to perform a monthly Testicular Self Examination (TSE), just as women are advised to perform a monthly Breast Self Examination. Ask your general practitioner for information on how to perform this exam.
Testicular cancer can be a difficult subject to discuss, but being diagnosed with TC is far from the worst thing that could happen to someone, especially with today’s advanced medical technology. In addition, losing a testicle will generally not impair sexual function or the ability to have children. Men, if you notice the warning signs of TC, do not delay making an appointment with your doctor. You will be glad you did.