Just*in Time: Testicular Cancer Prevention

Just*in Time
by Justin B. Terry-Smith

Here we are in April, the month where a lot of us think about Easter and Easter egg hunts. As adult men, I am suggesting that those of us with testicles go on our own “egg hunt”! Why? Testicular cancer is serious business and checking one’s own “eggs” is paramount to staying healthy.

I started thinking about HIV-positive singles sites again and I asked myself, “Are they really necessary? And, if so, can someone tell me why?”Testicular cancer can affect all men, no matter our serostatus. There is very little evidence that having HIV is a factor in having an increased risk of testicular cancer, but it is important that, as a public health issue we must be informed of how to protect ourselves and what to look for.

According to the American Cancer Society there are different types of testicular cancers, but doctors can analyze the cells of the cancer to see what type of cancer it is and figure out what treatment is best.

Typically, cancer cells of the testicles are known as germ cells. The germ cells are made up of two types of tumors called seminomas and non-seminomas. The Cancer Center states that seminomas and non-seminomas are very different.

The seminoma tumors are categorized into two types of tumors. The classical seminoma usually occur in men between the ages of thirty and fifty. The spermatocytic seminomas are usually found in men around or over the age of fifty-five. Even though both types of seminoma tumors are found in all ages, the classical seminoma is more commonly found.

The non-seminoma are categorized into four types. These types of tumors are usually found in teenagers and people in their early forties. The tumors are embryonal carcinoma, yolk sac carcinoma, choriocarcinoma, and teratoma. Embryonal carcinoma cells grow very fast and can quickly spread outside of the testicles. Yolk sac carcinoma cells are shaped like yolks and are very common, especially in children or young adults. Yolk sac carcinoma usually responds very well to chemotherapy. Teratoma cancer cells look like a three-layered embryo under a microscope.

Okay, now that we have the technical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about prevention and treatment.

Drop Those Eggs: Many men are born with undescended testicles, that is, testicles that haven’t moved into their proper position. Having undescended testicles increases your risk for testicular cancer. This condition is easily rectified with surgery and usually is detected at birth.

Feel Those Eggs: Yes, men, feel those testicles. It’s time for a self-exam. The American Cancer Society states that you need to pull your penis out of the way to examine each testicle separately. You then must hold one testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands. Next, roll the testicle gently between your fingers. You are doing this to see if you feel any hard lumps or nodules. Also check to see if there are any change in size, consistency, or shape.

Let the Doctor Feel Your (Easter Egg) Basket: You need to speak up if your physician is not being proactive about giving you a testicular exam with every check-up. I go to my doctor every three months and I’m considering having him do an exam every time just to be sure. After all, I just turned thirty-nine and I’m not getting any younger; I want to stay on top of my health as I age.

X-Rays & Ultrasounds: X-rays can be used to look for tumors on or around your testicles. But this is often used to see if the cancer has spread. There is another way to test for testicular cancer. If you or your doctor think there may be something that needs further examination of your testicles, an ultrasound can be ordered and can help doctors look for tumors that X-rays may not detect.

Testing the Testes: The doctor may want to run a blood test. The blood test will tell the doctor whether the cancer will remain in your body if the removal of your testicle is a solution.

Egg Replacements: The doctor might decide that you will need to have your testicle removed. The doctor can use a prosthetic, saline-filled testicle to replace the removed testicle if you choose. To remove lymph nodes your doctor would have to preform surgery. But caution: this can cause nerve damage and might make it difficult to ejaculate.

Radiation & Chemo: Doctors can use radiation to kill cancer cells. If your doctor has removed your testicle, this treatment might be used to ensure the removal of cancer cells. Please be aware that radiation treatment may cause nausea, fatigue, irritation of skin and reduction of sperm count. Chemotherapy may be also recommended by your doctor, before or after lymph nodes are removed. It often is used if the cancer has traveled to other parts of your body. Be aware that nausea, fatigue, hair loss and increased risk of other infections of the body may be side effects.

Preserve Your Yolk: Many of us want to have biological children. Talk to your doctor about sperm preservation before undergoing treatment. Also, let me state that I am the father of two adopted children, so sperm preservation is not your only option to be a parent.

Justin B. Terry-Smith, MPH, DrPH, has been fighting the good fight since 1999. He’s garnered recognition and awards for his work, but he’s more concerned about looking for new ways to transform society for the better than resting on his laurels. He started up in gay rights and HIV activism in 2005, published an HIV-themed children’s book, I Have A Secret (Creative House Press) in 2011, and created his own award-winning video blog called, “Justin’s HIV Journal”: justinshivjournal.blogspot.com. Visit his main Web site at www.justinbsmith.com. He welcomes your questions at [email protected].