To many men, the thought of being diagnosed with testicular cancer is like something out of a bad dream. From an early age, men become acutely aware of the importance of this sensitive organ and the role it plays in our sexual development and procreation. Any physical threat to this region of our bodies can seem like a direct threat to our very manhood.
Fortunately, testicular cancer isn’t all that common—and when it is diagnosed in the early stages, it is highly treatable. Still, aside from the fact that Lance Armstrong famously battled the disease, many men don’t understand the facts when it comes to testicular cancer.
As men, we sometimes ignore symptoms and wait until the last possible minute to visit the doctor, as Armstrong did. I’m here to help clear up some myths about testicular cancer so that you can be more aware of the risks and know what to do if you notice any symptoms.
With that in mind, here are eight myths—and facts—about testicular cancer.
Myth: Testicular cancer doesn’t affect young people
Fact: Testicular cancer is not a middle-aged or elderly man’s disease. It can affect a man no matter what his age and is most common in men between the ages of 20 to 34, according to American Cancer Society. Men between the ages of 15-19 and 35-39 also have a higher incidence rate than older age groups.
Myth: Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men
Fact: The three most common forms of cancer in men are prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. Testicular cancer is extremely rare. A man has a 1 in 263 chance of getting testicular cancer in his lifetime, and about 8,000 men are diagnosed with the disease every year, a far lower rate compared to other types of cancer.
Myth: Most testicular cancers begin in a normal testicle
Fact: Not true. Most testicular cancers actually begin in an undescended testicle, which is one that did not fall into the scrotum (for most males this happens by nine months old). About 25 percent of testicular cancers start in a normal, descended testicle.
Myth: Vasectomies cause testicular cancer
Fact: Several studies have shown that the rate of testicular cancer in men with vasectomies is no higher than in other men who haven’t undergone this procedure. About 1 in 6 men over age 35 has had a vasectomy. That’s a significant population, meaning that we’d have more widespread cases of testicular cancer if there were in fact a link between this disease and a vasectomy.
Myth: Testicular cancer is not treatable
Fact: Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, especially when it is caught early. The five-year survival rate for testicular cancer is 99 percent if the cancer is localized to one area, 96 percent if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes and tissues, and 73 percent if it has spread to organs or lymph nodes away from the cancer.
Myth: Surgery can spread testicular cancer
Fact: Simply not true. The purpose of surgery is to prevent cancer from spreading. If we suspect a man has testicular cancer, we will remove the entire testicle(s). This is a safer approach compared to diagnosing the cancer through a biopsy, because that procedure could spread the testicular cancer.
Myth: Your sex drive and fertility diminish after testicular cancer
Fact: As I previously mentioned, the best way to treat testicular cancer is to remove one or both testicles. However, in most cases we only remove one testicle. Men in this category likely won’t notice any difference in their sex drive or fertility. However, if a man has both testicles removed, this will lead to infertility and could affect his interest in sex. In this case, hormone treatments could help to restore sex drive.
Myth: Testicle injuries increase your risk for testicular cancer
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, getting hit in the testicles doesn’t increase your risk of testicular cancer. Neither does repetitive friction caused by sports like horseback riding. Most research has suggested that vigorous physical activity doesn’t impact testicular cancer risk. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Regular exercise actually can lower your risk of certain cancers.