Medical professionals at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center warn that male service members are part of the most at-risk group for testicular cancer. The form of cancer may be rare, but it does occur most often in men ages 20 to 39.
“[Service members] need to be aware of the risk. While the survival rate is more than 90 percent, testicular cancer can still be lethal if it is too advanced once it is discovered,” said Maj. Eric Whitman, a urologist in the Department of Surgery at CRDAMC.
As part of National Men’s Health month in June, Whitman is promoting education and awareness of the disease. He encourages service members to take an active role in managing their testicular health by performing regular, monthly self-exams.
“[Service members] should always be on the offensive, not just for one month out of the year or at their annual physical exam. Ignoring a testis mass for a month, or several months, can be fatal,” he said. “Testicular cancer is now one of the most curable cancers, but the more advanced it is, the less options a man has for treatment … .”
Most men with testicular cancer can be cured with surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. Side effects vary.
The testicular cancer rate has more than doubled among white men in the past 40 years, but has only recently begun to increase among black men, according to the National Cancer Institute. There is no known cause, but men who have had an undescended testicle or a brother or father with the disease may be more at risk for developing testicular cancer.
More cases of testis cancer are identified in the military population in part due to service members’ improved access to care, as well as required annual exams and early screening efforts.
Whitman emphasized the importance of performing monthly self exams.
“Being shy about one’s anatomy is the most likely reason why men present so late with tumors or torsion,” he said. “But most men will be less shy if they know that they could lose a testicle (in the case of torsion) or should lose it (in the case of tumors) before it spreads.”
After a self-exam, men should see their primary care provider if they notice any symptoms such as a painless lump or swelling in a testicle, any enlargement of a testicle or change in the way it feels. Seek immediate medical attention for any pain and swelling lasting more than an hour.