Testicular cancer, 'a disease of younger men,' can be caught early

March 31, 2013 | by Tami Dennis

Testicular cancer doesn’t bear thinking about for most men and, indeed, it seems to elicit few headlines or public discussions. But that doesn’t mean that men, especially young men, shouldn’t be aware of the symptoms. Such awareness could save their lives.

testicles Cancer of the testicles, at bottom of photo, can be caught early. A self-exam is crucial.

Almost 7,920 cases of testicular cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, according to the National Cancer Institute; and almost 370 cases are expected to be fatal.

Although it can be diagnosed in infants and elderly men, testicular cancer usually affects men in what’s popularly known as “the prime of their life.” About half the cases occur in men ages 20 to  34. The most famous survivor of testicular cancer, cyclist Lance Armstrong, was diagnosed at age 25.

“Testicular cancer is a disease of younger men, and the key to early detection is self-examination,” said Cy Aaron Stein, M.D., Ph.D., the Arthur and Rosalie Kaplan Chair and Professor of the Department of Medical Oncology and Therapeutics Research at City of Hope. “The good news is that testicular cancer is rare, easily detectable at an early stage, and almost completely curable when detected early.”

Armstrong himself was cured, although the disease had spread to his brain, lungs and abdomen.

Even so, it pays to know the symptoms, especially during a week known as Testicular Cancer Awareness Week (April 1 to 7). A lump on the testicle is the most common symptom, and an examination of the testicles should be part of any general physical exam. Some doctors recommend monthly self-exams (the American Cancer Society explains how to do so properly), especially if a man has specific risk factors.

Those include: an undescended testicle, a family history of testicular cancer,  cancer of the other testicle, HIV infection and youth.

As for ethnicity, the American Cancer Society says: “The risk of testicular cancer among white men is about 5 times that of black men and more than 3 times that of Asian-American and American Indian men. The risk for Hispanics/Latinos falls between that of Asians and non-Hispanic/Latino whites. The reason for these differences is not known. Worldwide, the risk of developing this disease is highest among men living in the United States and Europe and lowest among men living in Africa or Asia.”

Blood tests, ultrasound and biopsies are used to diagnose testicular cancer, as City of Hope's testicular information explains, but that process likely starts with the patient himself – and a self-exam.

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