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Young men must be mindful of cancer

By Scott Tibbs, June 7, 2002

Later this month, I will travel to Indianapolis for what may be my final check up for the cancer I was diagnosed with in 1997. It was a little over five years ago that I noticed all was not as it should be. My left testicle was significantly larger than my right one, and it was beginning to get uncomfortable. By the time the last week of classes before spring break began, I knew something was seriously wrong.

When Friday morning rolled around that week, it was all I could think about. My brother in-law's younger brother had passed away as a result of complications from testicular cancer. He had swelling, but didn't do anything about it, and when he was hospitalized for another ailment the cancer was discovered. By then it was too late. From that point on, the men in my family were instructed to immediately go to the doctor if anything suspicious was present in that area.

I went home over the weekend knowing I had to go to the doctor, and I was fairly certain I was developing a malignancy. My general practitioner referred me to a specialist, and by Friday of spring break I was having the diseased organ removed. Spring Break '97 wasn't exactly fun in the sun in Fort Lauderdale.

Because my cancer was caught early, my treatment has been fairly easy. I had the initial surgery to remove the cancer, and I have been in "surveillance" for the last five years, having periodic blood tests, chest x-rays, and CT scans to check for cancer or signs of it.

While testicular cancer is relatively rare (1 in 25,000 men will contract it each year according to the Virginia Urology Center Web site) it is the most common cause of cancer for men between the ages of 15 to 34 years old, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Young men must be mindful of the warning signs of TC and be prepared to take measures to treat it. The FDA Web site reports that common warning signs include "an enlarged testicle, a feeling of heaviness or sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum, a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin, or enlargement or tenderness of the breasts".

There are two general types of testicular cancer, seminoma and non-seminoma. Seminoma cancers can be treated with radiation (a high dose of X-rays) while non-seminoma cancers are generally treated with chemotherapy as radiation isn't effective against them. Non-seminoma cancers are marked by unusually high levels of alpha-fetoprotein in the blood.

Men should perform a monthly Testicular Self Examination to check for abnormalities, just as women are advised to perform a monthly breast examination, especially as they get older. Many resources are available online on how to perform a TSE, and contacting one's general practitioner for help and advice on the TSE or on testicular cancer should also be a priority for men.

The good news is, unlike some particularly nasty forms of cancer, testicular cancer is very treatable. Chances of curability are upwards of 98% if caught early. Naturally, the odds diminish the longer the cancer has had to metastasize. World champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and renowned figure skater Scott Hamilton have both been successfully treated for testicular cancer. Armstrong was treated at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.

Testicular cancer is understandably a difficult subject for many men. Discussing it can be embarrassing. Even though I have written of my experiences with TC in the past, it is still somewhat difficult to be writing this column, even though there should be nothing embarrassing about having any form of cancer. Men cannot allow embarrassment over discussing these matters to cover up a serious health issue like cancer. Postponing a potential embarrassment isn't worth one's life.