Testicular Cancer – It’s A Young Man’s Disease
A few months ago, as we finished up my thirteen year old son’s annual physical, the young nurse practitioner turned serious for a moment.
“We have to talk about your testes,” she said to Eli, without blinking.
Eli looked shocked. “My what?” he gulped.
“Your testes. Your balls. We have to talk about them.”
Nothing in our interaction with this pretty, young woman had prepared us for this. But what else can you do? We both just looked at her and smiled. “Ok,” I said finally. “I guess we’ll talk about that now.”
Sarah, our pediatrician, went on to explain to both of us that testicular cancer is a young man’s disease, striking men from fifteen to thirty five and has even been diagnosed in boys as young as nine. In fact, it is the most common cancer among men of that age group, affecting more than 8,800 males in the U.S. each year.
Signs Of Testicular Cancer
Sarah taught Eli how to check himself for testicular cancer, teaching him to perform a monthly self check, similar to the way women check themselves for breast cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, there may be no symptoms of testicular cancer, however these are signs that perhaps you should seek a doctor’s advice:
- Lump Or Swelling In The Testicle
- Breast Growth Or Soreness
- Early Onset Puberty
- Low Back Pain
- Shortness Of Breath, Chest Pain
- Belly Pain
Lump in the Testicle
The first symptom of testicular cancer is a lump on the testes or swollen testicles. Some cancers may cause pain, but usually they do not. However, cancer is sometimes accompanied by a feeling of heaviness or aching in the lower belly or scrotum.
Breast Growth or Soreness
In rare cases, certain cancer cells can cause conditions that cause male breasts to grow or become sore. Leydig cell tumors can create female sex hormones that can cause breast growth or loss of sexual desire.
Some cancer cells can create male sex hormones, causing early onset puberty in very young boys. If you see signs of puberty in your son at a very young age, such as a deepening voice and the growth of facial hair, seek a doctor’s advice.
Low Back Pain, Shortness of Breath, Chest or Belly Pain
These can be symptoms of advanced cancer. Especially coughing uncontrollably or coughing up blood. If you have these symptoms, you should see your doctor right away.
(These symptoms may be indications of conditions other than testicular cancer. You should seek a doctors advice, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.)
What A Healthy Testicle Feels Like
Our delightful nurse practitioner, Sarah, was very open with both Eli, which was helpful. When discussing medical matters, euphemisms and double talk don’t work very well, especially with teenage boys. While it was uncomfortable, it was necessary, and I appreciated her open and frank manner.
Sarah explained that a healthy testes should feel smooth and firm, but still somewhat soft, “like a boiled egg.” Regular self-checks will help a young man know what his own testes should feel like allowing him to recognize differences, should any develop. A hardening of the testes, or a lump or small hard bump, is cause for concern and should be discussed with a doctor.
Putting Health Ahead Of Comfort
While talking about testes and testicular cancer with our sons or our husbands may not be the most comfortable discussion we’ve ever had, it is an important one. Most of the time, men are more comfortable discussing football or tractors, rather than their testes or cancer. But it is too important a discussion to leave for another time. The survival rates for testicular cancer are good, however early detection is key. The earlier the cancer is detected, the easier it is to fight and the fewer long term effects will be seen. If you haven’t discussed this “young man’s disease” with the young men in your life, maybe today is a good time to do it!