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Healthy Man

Self-Exam Can Detect Testicular Cancer

October 12, 1998|KRISTL BULURAN | The Healthy Man runs every other Monday in Health

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in young men ages 15 to 34, but if you ask a 25-year-old man when the last time he checked his testicles was, chances are he'll probably tell you a story about a three-on-three basketball game where he got hit in the groin so hard, he threw up and couldn't move for a day or two.

Most men who experience groin or lower abdominal pain have the tendency to brush it off as a pulled muscle or a hernia. Testicular cancer, however, often begins with very little pain, if any, or a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin. Eventually, it can be detected through self-examination--usually a pea-sized lump but sometimes one as big as a marble or egg. Men are generally not taught to examine themselves on a monthly basis, as opposed to women, who constantly hear of the importance of monthly breast self-examinations. Nor are men encouraged to see their family physician for an annual physical exam until they are in their 40s or 50s. Women, by contrast, are encouraged to have an annual pelvic exam starting at age 18 or at the age of sexual activity. Thus, the testicles are often ignored until one gets hit in the groin with a basketball.

Medical professionals report that men can greatly increase their chances of finding testicular tumors by doing a testicular self-examination, or TSE, every month. The National Cancer Institute recommends that it be performed after a warm bath or shower, as heat relaxes the scrotum, making it easier to detect any abnormalities.

To perform a self-examination, stand in front of a mirror and check for any swelling on the scrotum skin. Slowly examine each testicle with both hands, rolling it gently between the thumb and fingers, feeling for any lumps or swellings. If one testicle seems larger than the other, don't be alarmed, as that is normal.

If you find a lump, see a doctor immediately. While the lump may not indicate cancer, only a doctor can rule out the possibility of cancer or make a positive diagnosis.

If found and treated early, testicular cancer is often completely curable with high survival rates. There are several FDA-approved drugs to treat testicular cancer, such as Platinol (cisplatin), as well as improved surgical techniques that can help remove the cancer, yet still retain ejaculation and fertility.

The important point here is that men need to be aware of the need for self-exams and not feel self-conscious about performing it on a regular basis. Moreover, men shouldn't fear seeking medical help if they find something abnormal. The best line of defense against testicular cancer is knowing your body and being aware of any changes. And perhaps wearing a cup when you play basketball would be good too.

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