July 14, 2008 -- Olympic swimmer Eric Shanteau, 24, says he has testicular cancer and is
delaying his testicular cancer surgery until after he's done competing in
According to media reports, Shanteau noticed a testicular abnormality but
didn't see a doctor until his girlfriend urged him to do so. Shanteau got the
testicular cancer diagnosis a week before the Olympic trials. Shanteau's
doctors recommended surgery as soon as possible but saw no signs that the
cancer had spread.
After weighing his options and risks -- and his life's work to get to the
Olympics -- Shanteau decided to delay treatment until after the Olympics. He'll
be closely monitored during the games and will drop out if there is any sign
his cancer is spreading.
Taking a Risk?
Shanteau's testicular cancer is in its early stages and can be closely
monitored by blood tests and CT scans, and that makes his case unique, says
Stephen Williams, MD, professor of medicine at Indiana University School of
Medicine and director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer
Center, where cyclist Lance Armstrong was treated for testicular cancer.
Williams isn't treating Shanteau.
"He could be treated before things get out of hand," Williams tells
WebMD. "In his particular case, I actually think that the decision that he
made -- given the circumstances -- is acceptable. I would not ever want to be
quoted as saying there's no hurry in getting testicular cancer treated, because
nothing could be farther from the truth."
Not all doctors are comfortable with Shanteau's decision to delay his
testicular cancer surgery.
"If he hasn't had his testicle removed ... it would be just stupid. Just
have it removed ... because there's a chance of it spreading over the next
month," urologist Ronald Hrebinko, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center, tells WebMD.
The surgery is "not a big operation; it doesn't involve muscle cutting
or anything like that," explains Hrebinko, who isn't one of Shanteau's
doctors. Shanteau would likely only need a few days off from the surgery,
Of the 8,000 new cases per year in the U.S., 80% to 90% occur in men younger
than 35, according to Otis Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American
Reluctant to See a Doctor
Shanteau's initial reluctance to see a doctor is "very, very
common," Brawley tells WebMD.
"Many women at least see a gynecologist every year or every couple of
years in their 20s and 30s. But most young men don't see physicians so they
don't have a relationship with a physician. 'Who do you call? How do you even
go about seeing a doctor?' is something that you'll hear a 21- or 22-year-old
say," Brawley says.
Hrebinko says that "most people at that age are healthy, and you tend to
think you're invincible in your teens or 20s, so you'll ignore things." For
instance, Hrebinko says the biggest testicular tumor he's seen was "the
size of a rugby ball" in a college student who ignored it in the hopes that
it would go away.