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Early detection increases testicular cancer survival rate

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

A single, awkward 15-second conversation can literally save a life.

Just ask Mike Craycraft.

A founder of the Testicular Cancer Society, Craycraft discovered a ridge on his testicles during the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma. After putting it off for months out of fear, Craycraft made himself go to the doctor and get formally checked.

The diagnosis: stage 1 testicular cancer.

“I wish I’d known it literally took three seconds to say, ‘Hey, there’s a lump on my left testicle,’” he said. “It took me seven months to work the courage up. If I’d known how easy it was, I would have gone in a lot sooner.”

Although it is the most common cancer diagnosis among men ages 20 to 35 years old, testicular cancer can appear at any age.

Symptoms include a lump, ridge or enlargement on either testicle, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, a dull ache in the abdomen or groin, a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum and back pain.

Risk factors include a family history of testicular cancer, Klinefelter Syndrome or other genetic conditions that impede testicular development, and having an undescended testicle.

Relatively rare compared to other forms of cancer, about 9,500 individuals receive a testicular cancer diagnosis annually nationwide. However, when detected in Stage 1 before it has a chance to spread, testicular cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 99 percent.

At 5.3 cases for every 100,000 men compared to 7 cases for every 100,000 men, the incidence rate among Indigenous men is lower than non-Hispanic whites. However, the fatality rate among American Indian and Alaska Native men is slightly higher than most of their non-Indigenous neighbors. According to data compiled in 2019 by the National Center for Health Statistics, the fatality rate is 0.4 for every 100,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men, compared to 0.3 for Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites and 0.1 for Asian, Pacific Islander and black men.

In addition to self-examination, an ultrasound or a blood test can detect and confirm the disease. There are two forms of testicular cancer: seminoma and non-seminoma. The former is more common among older men and is generally less aggressive. The latter tends to appear at earlier ages and grow more quickly.

Depending on when the disease is caught, treatment options range from outpatient surgery to radiation to chemotherapy. The latter two can impact fertility, either on a temporary or permanent basis.

Meanwhile, Craycraft has been in remission for 14 years. In the interim, he has used his experience to provide support to other men who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer or suspect something may be wrong with their testicles.

To better reach men in their 20s and 30s who are more likely to be diagnosed, the Testicular Cancer Society has made a point to be active on multiple social media platforms, including Reddit, Twitter and WhatsApp.

“I would never have imagined that in order to help people, I’d be on Reddit,” Craycraft said. “It’s going to where the guys are. I learned a long time ago that if someone posts about testicular cancer on Twitter, it’s probably because they have it.”