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Be proactive in looking for early signs of testicular cancer

Image of Military health personnel giving and examination. Air Force 2nd Lt. Kylee Bolinder (left), 60th Inpatient Squadron nurse, cleans a power port on Nicholas Pilch, 60th Air Mobility Wing. Pilch underwent chemotherapy for testicular cancer in 2020. It is important for servicemen to do monthly self-exams to screen for early signs of testicular cancer. While rare, testicular cancer is most prevalent among men between the ages of 15-34 (Photo by: Nicholas Pilch, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs).

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Testicular Cancer Week is an important time to remind service members to be proactive in their health.

According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Dorota Hawksworth, a urologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, testicular cancer is very rare, but is most common amongst males between 15 and 34 years of age, the age bracket of many military members.

Testicular cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of one or both testicles. While the diagnosis of cancer can be frightening, testicular cancer can usually be cured.

"Many men have no known risk factors," said Hawksworth, "the known risk factors [for testicular cancer] can't be changed."

These risk factors include a personal history of undescended testicle or prior testicular cancer, family history of testicular cancer, HIV infection, diagnosis of Klinefelter's disease, age, race, and ethnicity, Hawksworth noted. White males develop testicular cancer at a rate four times higher than that of Black males, according to cancer.gov.

Testicular cancer can be detected early through screenings both at home and by a doctor.

"Screening means looking for cancer before person has any symptoms. This process is performed differently, depending on the type of cancer," said Hawksworth.

Testicular cancer however has no standard routine or screening. According to Hawksworth, most testicular cancers are found by a man or his partner, either by chance or by a self-screening.

Self-exams should be performed monthly and in a warm environment such as a bath or shower to allow the scrotum to be more "relaxed," Hawksworth noted. Then each testis should be felt separately, using both hands to ensure that the contour is even and smooth with an egg-like shape with both testes about the same size.

If during a self-exam a patient finds a nodule or hard mass on or around the testicle, a size change, or difference in one or both testes, pain, or if the patient "thinks" he feels something and is unsure, he should seek medical attention urgently.

According to Hawksworth, most tumors present with a painless mass or swelling in one or sometimes both testes. Testicular pain only occurs in about 10% of men with testicular cancer. Men may have systemic, as opposed to localized, pain, "they may complain about breast swelling, back pain, or an abnormal pain or mass," said Hawksworth.

If caught early enough, many testicular cancers can be removed through surgery. According to cancer.gov, testicular cancer has a 95% five-year survival rate.

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