Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single mother and my teenage son rather sheepishly told me that he thinks there’s something wrong “down there.” When I asked what he meant, he said something doesn’t feel right. He’s not the kind of kid who complains about his health very much, so I took him to his pediatrician who referred us to a urologist to do some tests to determine whether my son has testicular cancer! My son and I are really scared. What can we do?
A: Well, the first thing to do is thank your lucky stars that your son opened up to you — his mom — about what he felt “down there.” Although testicular cancer accounts for only about 1 percent of all male cancers, it’s the most common form of cancer among boys and men between 15 and 35 years old. This year, in the U.S. alone, more than 9,000 males will be diagnosed with testicular cancer, according to the
American Cancer Society, and about 400 will die.
That leads me to the second thing you can do: stay on top of the situation with the urologist. He (or she) will probably start with an ultrasound to find evidence of tumors. If one is found, the next step will probably be blood tests. But as scary as all this is, the good news is that testicular cancer, if caught early, has a 99 percent five-year survival rate.
Unfortunately, in general, men and boys are far less likely than women and girls to have regular contact with a healthcare provider. That makes early diagnosis of testicular cancer — and most other potentially serious health conditions — extremely difficult. As a result, too many cancers aren’t diagnosed until it’s too late, which helps explain why cancer mortality rates for men are notably higher than for women.
The third thing you and your son can do is help spread the word about testicular cancer. The most effective way to reduce the number of deaths from testicular cancer is to educate boys and young men (and those who love them) about the importance of doing regular testicular self-exams and recognizing the symptoms of the disease. In recent years, a number of high-profile patients and testicular cancer survivors have increased the public’s awareness of the disease. In January, five-time Olympic gold medalist Nathan Adrian went public with his battle with testicular cancer. Olympic legend Scott Hamilton is also a testicular cancer survivor. All three of these men were young and in their prime when they were diagnosed, far from typical perceptions of cancer patients.
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, so there couldn’t be a better time to help men and boys learn about the importance of screenings and awareness for testicular cancer.
Men’s Health Network , a national nonprofit advocating for the health and wellness of men and boys (full disclosure: I’ve been working with MHN for more than 20 years), encourages all young men ages 15-35 to regularly perform testicular self-exams, and if they feel a lump, a bump, or something that just seems “wrong,” to tell someone — just like your son did — and to see a doctor immediately.