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Keep on the ball: spotting testicular cancer

Few male illnesses can boast as much celebrity support as testicular cancer. But while stars such as Robbie Williams and Jonathan Ross have boosted awareness, experts complain that many men still arenít making the necessary checks.

Testicular cancer kills far fewer people than lung, bowel or prostate cancer ever will. However, it is unique in that it is the one cancer most likely to strike young men - men who are otherwise blasť about their health.

The disease is also on the increase. Scientists are baffled by a massive 50 per cent rise during the last 20 years and a 25 per cent increase in the past five years. Experts think it may be because of female hormones in the water supply, caused by women taking the contraceptive pill.

Not checking? Are you nuts?

But while the incidence of testicular cancer is rising, so is the effectiveness of treatment. A cure rate of 96 per cent is often possible if the cancer is caught early enough - astronomically high in comparison with other cancers.

All this means that checking for testicular cancer is becoming an increasingly important thing to do, and an increasingly stupid thing to ignore.

Peter Baker, director of the Men's Health Forum, is concerned. "I've no doubt that a lot of men are unaware of the symptoms of the cancer or that they can get it when relatively young. We do know that only a small proportion of men are checking their testicles regularly for lumps or swellings."

But testicular cancer must be put into perspective, he added. "It is still rare. There is only a 1 in 450 chance you'll get it during your lifetime. Even if you do get it, there are cure rates over 90 per cent now."

A survivor's tale

Colin Osborne agrees. Colin is a survivor of testicular cancer and the man behind the Orchid Charity Appeal, which specialises in promoting awareness of testicular cancer.

"We don't want to scare people here," he says. "The main message is to make young men aware of the importance of self-examination. There are only 1,600 cases a year, but the problem is that, when it is diagnosed, it has probably already been there for three months."

Colin knows what he's talking about. At 32, he discovered he had testicular cancer only when he leaned over a desk and experienced a pain. "I found a small lump but still it didn't set the alarm bells ringing. It was only when I mentioned it to my wife - who is a radiographer - that she told me I had to go to the doctor. She even made the appointment for me and made me go."

Colin was told that he had testicular cancer, that he had had it for six months and that, rarely, it had already spread to his other lymph nodes. "I'm lucky to be here," he says. "I was a couple of months away from death."

Get yourself seen

But after two years of treatment, he has survived and now spends a lot of his time spreading the message to other men. "All it needs is an ultrasound scan by your doctor. And seven out of ten lumps are not cancerous, anyway," he says. "But what we're saying is just go and get it checked out."

The Orchid Cancer Appeal has produced a video aimed at young boys, starring a number of celebrities and sports stars, and warning about testicular cancer and explaining how to check for the disease. Colin says that all the schools in Birmingham and Southwark in London, as well as another 5,000 secondary schools, now show the film.

The video takes a light-hearted look at the issue. Colin explains, "What we tried to do was make it enjoyable because young boys can switch off. It is embarrassing to talk about it, so we get the message across with humour."

A whole different ball game

So what are the symptoms of testicular cancer and how can you check for them? Most commonly, there is a lump or swelling in part of one testicle that can be the size of a pea or maybe larger. It is not usually painful, but some men do get a dull ache in the testicle or their lower abdomen. The scrotum may also feel heavy.

As for examination, the best thing to do is check yourself once a month, ideally in the bath when the scrotal sack is relaxed. Use your fingers and thumb to feel for any lumps or swellings. If there seems to be a lump, check to see if it's the same in your other testicle.

If you do find something, make an appointment with your doctor, and he will either be able to put your mind at risk or start treatment immediately - either way, it's better to take action rather than waiting and maybe paying the penalty.

Further information:

Orchid Cancer Appeal
Men's Health Forum

Link to this story on Discovery Health

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