Battling Testicular Cancer
Though curable, testicular cancer is often ignored by men who have it.
Nevertheless, he underwent an aggressive course of treatment:
surgery to remove the affected testicle and to debulk tumors in his brain, and
chemotherapy. A year later, Armstrong was pronounced cancer free.
Uzzo and others hope celebrity cases will not only alert young
men about testicular cancer but also convince them to begin performing
self-examination so they are familiar with the size and feeling of their
testicles and will be more likely to detect subtle, early changes. But if a
study done at the University of Hiddersfield in England and appearing in the
September 1999 issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care is any
measure, most men still don't know much about the signs, symptoms, or risks of
In the study, researchers found that an overwhelming majority
of the 203 male undergraduate and postgraduate students (20 to 45 years old)
interviewed about testicular cancer either were uninformed or misinformed about
the disease. More worrisome to researchers was the fact that only one man in
the study group knew how to properly perform a testicular self-exam and
actively practiced the procedure.
Today, "I think there is an increased awareness because of
the high profile cases," Uzzo says.
With cure rates so high, attention is now being directed to
improving treatments. Specifically, doctors would like to find ways of
minimizing risks to a patient's fertility. A position paper by the National
Cancer Institute indicates that many (though not all) of those undergoing
chemotherapy can sufficiently recover sperm production to allow a patient to
father a child. Similarly, radiation treatment for spread of certain types of
testicular cancer can cause fertility problems because of radiation spillover
to the remaining (normal) testicle, but again, this may resolve in some
patients. Fortunately, in both circumstances, if fertility recovers, there
appears to be no increased risk of birth defects as a result.
Of course, there is no way to predict in advance who might be
infertile. "Any cure can affect fertility," says Uzzo, noting that most
patients bank their sperm before undergoing treatment. "While the No. 1
goal is to cure the patient of the disease, we are now concentrating our
efforts on decreasing the morbidity of the types of treatment offered on
fertility and minimizing any [problems] associated with chemotherapy."