Testicular cancer: Most common among men 15-35

June 17, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

Syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers recently urged all her male readers to perform a testicular self-exam every month.

"If you notice any changes, swelling or lumps, notify your doctor immediately," she wrote.

That's sound advice, but men who followed it to the letter, or enlisted the help of their wives, probably had no idea what they were doing.

No one blames those guys and those women. Sometimes it seems conditions down there change on a daily basis.

Is that a good lump? Is that supposed to be over there? What are these things floating around in there?

Without proper medical training those questions are unanswerable.

Fortunately, the folks at the American Cancer Society have published information that could be of some use to those hoping to pass a self-examination.


"Cancer of the testicle is very rare, affecting only 1 out of every 10,000 men ages 15-35," according to a Cancer Society's article. That would be the good news.

"Still, it is the most common cancer found in this age group," according to the society. That would be the bad.

For those in that age group, here's what to look for:

"If you find that one of your testicles is much larger or firmer than the other, or if you find a lump, whether painful or not, don't panic. The problem is usually not cancer, but you'll need to see your doctor to make sure."

There have been many famous people who found out the problem was cancer. The list of luminaries includes cycling legend Lance Armstrong and former baseball star John Kruk.

Both Kruk and Armstrong were able to best the disease with the help of skilled doctors who stopped the cancer from spreading. Nine of 10 reported cases are cured, according to the British medical journal Lancet.

However, neither the doctors who publish in Lancet nor the world-class physicians employed by Armstrong and Kruk have been able to determine the how or why of testicular cancer.

"The cause of testicular cancer is not well understood," the Cancer Society's article states.

It continues, "The most important known risk factor for testicular cancer is the history of one of your testicles not moving into your scrotum properly before you were of school age. However, most men who develop testicular cancer do not have this risk factor."

Not very encouraging, huh?

Still, every doctor in the Imperial Valley knows where to refer someone worried about testicular cancer and the doctors at the Imperial Valley Cancer Center, on La Brucherie Road in El Centro, can treat cancer patients if it turns out that the person who was worried had good cause to be.

Peg Scott, an assistant to the center's doctors, said the center has the only high-energy linear accelerator X-ray machine in the county.

On Friday she led a tour of the center's machine, including the inner workings that even patients don't usually see. Scott explained how the accelerator works and why it is vastly superior to the common X-ray machines with which most people are familiar.

To start, the linear accelerator machine is huge, imposing and powerful. It looks like something from "2001: A Space Odyssey" but it's technology is used for good.

Second it's capable of targeting all four sides of a cancerous tumor.

A patient undergoing treatment lies flat on their back and the head of the X-ray machine circles around the body to shoot radiation from above, the sides and below.

To make sure the radiation is focused solely on the tumor, every patient treated with the accelerator first undergoes a series of preliminary procedures.

First, radiation therapists Anthony Britton and Phyllis Luchetti, working with the center's doctors, pinpoint the exact spot of the cancer using a computerized axial topography scanner, called a CAT scan machine for short. After the cancer is isolated, the therapists feed the data into a computer to create three- dimensional computerized models.

This information is then processed by another computer that operates a machine that carves the shape of the tumor into a piece of blue foam.

Using the hunks of blue foam, the therapists create lead molds that are placed into the head of the X-ray machine. The lead molds focus the radiation so that only the tumor is targeted.

The precision of the whole operation is especially important in the treatment of prostate cancer and testicular cancer because it helps cut down on post-treatment problems such as rectal bleeding and urinary issues, Scott said.

A decade ago, such equipment wasn't available on a nationwide scale as it is now. In the past five years, as more doctors have started building offices around a linear accelerator, treatment of cancer has vastly improved, Scott said.

There are far fewer problems with radiation related side effects and more people are able to recover faster.

Still, sometimes, even in this age of medical advances, some people don't make it. Before anyone is treated at the center, the patient has a private consultation with a doctor.

"We ask what can we offer you," she said.

Sometimes it's just making the patient's last few days comfortable, she said.

And that's why Ann Landers wants all the guys out there to check themselves.

For those who don't want to bother, there's this excerpt from an article posted on one of the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Web sites:

"A recent issue of Lancet featured the case of a 17-year-old who died four days after a road accident in which he had sustained only minor injuries.

"He was killed by a blood clot in the lung, which a post-mortem found was not linked to the accident but to a testicular tumor that had probably been present for months.

"The tumor was 12 centimeters long, and secondary tumors were found in the liver and bones."

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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