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Testicular Cancer: Self-Exams at Home

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WebMD Feature

Testicular cancer makes headlines because it strikes young men in the prime of life. Thanks to modern treatments, most men survive testicular cancer. World-class cyclist Lance Armstrong not only survived testicular cancer -- he went on to win the Tour de France seven times!

The biggest key to beating testicular cancer is detecting it early. Simple testicular cancer self-exams can play a part in catching this disease in its earliest stages.

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Who Gets Testicular Cancer?

Testicular cancer usually affects men from age 20 to 39. Testicular cancer is uncommon: about 8,250 cases were diagnosed in 2006, with about 370 deaths. This represents only 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses. However, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 34.

Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer

Certain risk factors increase the chances of developing testicular cancer:

  • Cryptorchidism. In this condition, one or both testicles never fully descend into the scrotum in childhood. The testicle remains in the abdomen or high up in the groin, where it's more prone to developing cancer, for reasons that are not yet understood.
  • Previous testicular cancer
  • Family history of testicular cancer
  • White men get testicular cancer about five times more often than African-American men, for reasons that are not yet understood.

Testicular Cancer: Self-Exams for Screening?

Although common sense suggests routine testicular cancer self-exams should catch it earlier, this has not been definitively established.

"There is no evidence that self-exams detect testicular cancer at an earlier stage," says Durado Brooks, MD, director of colon and prostate cancer prevention programs for the American Cancer Society. Large clinical trials on this issue have simply not been done.

Self-exams also carry risks, Brooks adds, including "increased anxiety, and the risk of undergoing unnecessary medical procedures." For these reasons, the American Cancer Society does not recommend self-exams for testicular cancer detection, says Brooks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force also does not recommend testicular cancer self-exams. At the same time, "we don't state that men should not do self-exams," says Brooks.

Some experts consider testicular cancer self-exams beneficial. "Self-exam is, I think, an important aspect of early detection," according to Joel Sheinfeld, MD, deputy chief of the urology service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Most important, experts say, is to recognize and respond to possible symptoms of testicular cancer. "Men are usually aware there's something wrong," says Lance Pagliaro, MD, a medical oncologist with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. "The problem comes in how the man reacts to it."

Recognizing the Symptoms of Testicular Cancer

Most testicular cancers are discovered by the men who have them. The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless mass (lump) in one testicle. Other symptoms to look for:

  • Testicular discomfort, pain or swelling.
  • Any change in size or the usual "feel" of the testicle
  • A sensation of heaviness in the scrotum
  • Dull aching in the abdomen, back, or groin

If you have any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately.

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