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Testicular cancer: Self-exams save lives

Many men know that women may examine their breasts every month to help detect cancer. Unfortunately, many of those same men aren’t aware that they, too, should perform a self-exam each month—a testicular self-exam.

Cancer of the testicles is relatively uncommon: The American Cancer Society predicts there will be about 8.090 new cases this year [2008], compared to 184,450 new cases of breast cancer. However, as with other cancers, early detection of testicular cancer greatly improves a person’s chance of survival.

Unlike prostate cancer, which is most common among older men (ages 60 to 80), testicular cancer usually strikes young men between ages 15 and 35. Men born with an undescended testicle (one that remains in the abdomen, where a male fetus’s testicles develop, rather than moving down into the scrotum before birth) are many times more likely to get testicular cancer than those who have normal testicles. White men are at greater risk than African-American men.

If a tumor is found, the affected testicle will be removed surgically. The good news: The remaining testicle can maintain normal hormone production and sexual functioning. Only in rare cases must both testicles be removed. These patients receive hormone injections that restore normal sexual function but not fertility.

The five-year survival rate for men who have an early-stage seminoma, the most common type of testicular tumor, is 99 percent. But even for late-stage testicular cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 70 percent.