Do not ignore the warning signs of testicular cancer

Printed in the Herald-Times, March 14, 2017

On March 14, 1997, I was sitting in class in Ballentine Hall at Indiana University anxiously awaiting spring break. My thoughts were not on what my instructor was saying but on the week to come. I barely heard a word that was said, and hoped I would not be called on because I was not at all prepared to answer anything. Unlike many other students, I was not anticipating a week of fun. I was worried about what the next seven days would mean for the rest of my life.

You see, I had cancer. My left testicle had swollen and was significantly larger than the other one. A family member had passed away a few years earlier from testicular cancer, so I knew I was dealing with something that would kill me if nothing was done.

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer for men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five years old. According to testicularcancersociety.org, six in 100,000 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer each year. Statistically speaking, it is likely that there will be cases in Monroe County this year, so you may know someone who will contract the disease – or you may contract it yourself.

We men tend to be very private about our genitals, so the prospect of going to the doctor and discussing abnormalities is not appealing. It can also be uncomfortable to discuss the topic with family members or a significant other. It is far better to be uncomfortable than to be dead.

The good news is testicular cancer is very treatable and survivable. The five year survival rate for testicular cancer is over 95% if it is caught early. Because symptoms show up early (unlike many other forms of cancer) early detection is quite common. But like any cancer, testicular cancer becomes more deadly the longer it is allowed to grow unchecked and without medical intervention.

Men should be performing a monthly testicular self-examination to look for abnormalities. The following are warning signs of testicular cancer, from MayoClinic.org:

  • A lump or enlargement in either testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull ache in the abdomen or groin
  • A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
  • Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts

If you discover any of these warning signs, go to the doctor right away. Do not procrastinate and do not ignore the problem. Make sure men you know are aware of the warning signs, because that knowledge could save their life. If you have sons, teach them to know the warning signs once they are old enough to understand and before they reach the age where it becomes common. If you know of any man who has the warning signs, press him to go to the doctor immediately.

That spring break twenty years ago was certainly a memorable one. I went to my family doctor on Monday, and he sent me to a specialist on Wednesday. On Friday, I was having surgery to remove the diseased testicle. After five years in surveillance, I was pronounced cancer-free in 2002. Twenty years after I went into surgery, I am still cancer-free. It was a stressful week, but my story has a happy ending. Yours can too. Do not ignore the warning signs of testicular cancer, because doing nothing could be deadly.

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