Men should have their boys checked annually to fight cancer

You grab them in the dugout, in the field or on the sidelines. You shield them with plastic protector cups imbedded in cotton pockets that hug you with elastic straps gripping your buttocks. You spend a great deal of your life adjusting them whenever they seem out of whack. They’re obviously important to you. So, have you had your “boys” checked for cancer?

Testicular cancer hits men in the 15-to-44 age group most often. There are 9,000 new cases in the United States each year and 2,000 in the UK. The good news is that the cure rate is high-over 90 percent for early-discovered cases. This drops to 50 percent if the cancer spreads, undetected. This seems like an incentive for early detection. I decided to ask around about the proper procedure for getting checked.

When my friend told me about his cancer checks, I tried to be sensitive and not laugh. This was not possible. The closest I could manage was to refrain from losing it entirely.

Here’s his description: “First, you drop your pants, lower your underwear, and they tell you to turn your head and cough. Then, they reach out and grab a ball. It’s nice, soft, hands, except it’s usually man hands, so it’s not very pleasant. It doesn’t seem so invasive. I’ve heard what happens to ladies, putting your feet up in stirrups and putting your breasts in clamps. It’s not like that. It’s not like he’s grabbing the peter; he’s just pushing in on the ball sack while you cough. The test I dread is when I turn 50 and they want to stick their thumb up my butt [colo-rectal cancer tests].”

I hear you. You’re saying, “I’m not doing that.” But, you may want to rethink your reaction.

Just 30 years ago, nine out of ten men diagnosed with testicular cancer died. The odds are better, now. Almost 100 percent cure with early detection. Even with later detections, as in the case of cyclist Lance Armstrong, testicular cancer can be survived.

His story is an illustration of hope: “On Wednesday, Oct. 2 (1996), I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Prior to seeing my doctor last week, I had been experiencing swelling and pain in one of my testicles and had coughed up some blood. On Thursday, Oct. 3, I underwent surgery at St. David’s Hospital here in Austin to have the malignant testicle removed and the surgery was successful. A CT-Scan was also performed the same day. The CT-Scan revealed that my condition has spread into my lungs and abdomen. In terms of degrees of the disease, my condition is considered to be advanced and, thus, yesterday I began my first day of chemotherapy treatment.”

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As many of you know, Armstrong has been riding strong to the tune of seven Tour de France wins-1999 to 2005. The problem with this picture is that Armstrong’s still not out of the woods. Most men who die of testicular cancer do so via secondary cancers that erupt up to 20 years later. Early detection cannot be stressed enough. It ups the chance of both a fix now and cancer-free findings later.

Other than annual turn and cough tests, doctors also suggest at-home weekly self-screenings. The preferred method is testing after a hot shower, and in front of a mirror. Men from puberty onwards should look for swelling or abnormalities, and then examine each testicle separately, feeling for lumps, comparing them to see whether one is larger than the other. Differing sizes is normal, but changes in size is not.

In one worst-case scenario, the affected testicle is removed surgically. If the cancer has not spread, then further treatment may not be necessary. If it has spread, then chemotherapy is usually given. Sometimes radiotherapy is used in the early stages.

For any problems or concerns, see a doctor or nurse and discuss the situation frankly.

Remember, having a testicle removed shouldn’t affect a man’s sex life or the chance of fathering children, but waiting too long to be tested or not following a doctor’s advice can be deadly.