Breaking down the walls of this typically “taboo” topic, a current media spotlight on testicular cancer has begun to widely open the conversation for both men and women, about the nondiscriminatory and very real risk for men of developing it. It’s an easy subject to sweep under the rug, since it can be less than comfortable for a majority of men to talk about. But the risk remains and affects every man, regardless of social status, career, or even their relative level of “health”. “I ate healthy foods, worked out, and even with all that healthy living, it happened.” Taboo, multi-platinum hip hop artist and member of the Black Eyed Peas, recently spoke out about his own personal battle with the disease. By revealing his stage 2 testicular cancer diagnosis and sharing his story, he is helping to normalize conversation about the disease and to make known that the risk is there, whether it’s discussed or not.
Of course, I realize that testicular cancer isn’t one of the most enjoyable topics for men to get together with their friends and chat about. Nor is it always easy to open up to you, the most important woman in their lives. In fact, that may be even harder, and because of the uncomfortable conversation, it may be avoided all together. However, well-known public figures like Taboo, sharing their own personal experiences slowly chips away at the unspoken topic and invites it into everyday conversation.
The good news about testicular cancer is that we CAN be proactive in its detection. It’s an often joked about notion that men will go to great lengths to avoid a trip to the doctor, even if they have a couple of unusual symptoms. Perhaps they think, “It’ll resolve on its own, right?” For some things, this might be true, but being able to spot the telltale symptoms of testicular cancer and paying the doc a visit, could end up saving his life.
The tricky part of spotting these symptoms is that (for the most part) they are subtle. Most men are alerted by pain, “If it doesn’t hurt, nothing’s wrong.” For testicular cancer, this is the number one misconception, as the most common symptoms occur without pain. Encouraging the men in your life to do a monthly testicular self-exam is the best way to bring attention to painless symptoms like a change in the size of one testicle, a painless bump or lump, or fluid gathering around the scrotum. However, it’s important to note that a small percentage of men (10-20%) initially complain of symptoms unrelated to the testicles. These include stomachaches, backaches, and coughing. And though they may seem like nothing but a common illness, they can indicate that the cancer has already advanced. Men may sometimes even experience breast or nipple tenderness, or an increase in breast size as a testicular cancer symptom. When faced with any of these symptoms, have your husband, son, or friend give themselves an extra examination to double check for lumps and then see a doctor. Lastly, for all the moms out there with young boys, testicular cancer can reveal itself through early signs of puberty, so keeping an eye on any unusual or seemingly “too early” changes in your son’s voice or hair growth is important.
Men are bound to overlook some of these common symptoms, but you can help break down the walls of the testicular cancer conversation. Fill them in on the importance of what to watch out for and encourage them to perform monthly self-exams. Even if they don’t say so, they’ll be glad you did.