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Battling Testicular Cancer

Though curable, testicular cancer is often ignored by men who have it.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Dec. 18, 2000 -- The strange, heavy feeling in Jacob Nass' lower stomach started about two years ago. At first he assumed it was a hernia. But while vacationing in the Cayman Islands, he went diving and felt a sharp pain, like someone had just kicked him in the groin.

 

When the newly married Nass got home, he went to see his doctor. Three weeks and several tests later, doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia told him the bad news: He had a particularly aggressive form of testicular cancer.

 

"I was shocked," says Nass, 29. "You envision yourself as a healthy person, and to find that you have something life-threatening kind of throws you a curve."

 

It's a curve that 6,900 men each year don't see coming, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). And while that number ranks the testicular type among the rarest forms of cancer, it remains the most common malignancy in young men aged 15 to 35.

 

Egg-shaped, the testicles are sex glands in the scrotum that secrete male hormones and produce sperm. As late as the 1980s, a diagnosis of testicular cancer was grim news for a young man. But over the years, advances in chemotherapy and other treatments have dramatically reduced the number of deaths from this killer. Notable survivors include world-class athletes like two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Olympic gold medallist ice skater Scott Hamilton, and comedian Tom Green, who chose to chronicle his treatment experience for the potentially affected age-group -- including the surgical removal of a testicle -- on his MTV program.

 

Cases of testicular cancer worldwide had been on the rise for about the past three decades, according to the ACS. Today, however, researchers are split on whether those numbers are continuing to grow.

 

"There has been some consensus that the number of cases is on a worldwide increase," Uzzo tells WebMD. "[But] I don't think there is definitive [evidence] to suggest that that is true."

 

The reason for the continued increase -- if indeed it real -- is the subject of debate as well. Some have even pointed to global warming as a possible cause. Uzzo points out, however, "I don't think anyone is convinced that there is a definite [increase] that can be attributed to global warming,"

 

Doctors also aren't completely sure why testicular cancer fancies young men. Some believe the rapidly dividing sperm and testicular cells of men in their sexual prime may result in cellular mistakes that become cancerous.

 

What doctors do know is that a man born with an undescended testicle (one that remains in the abdomen rather than ending up in the scrotum during fetal development) appears to have a significantly greater chance of testicular cancer, even if the flaw is surgically repaired.

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