As a disease full of mystery, cancer is often associated with misinterpretations and myth. Although it’s common for any disease to be misinterpreted, diseases that target a sensitive area seem to be most affected by myth. Such is the case for testicular cancer, a rare but highly treatable cancer in men.
For decades, testicular cancer has been mired in myth. Take for example the silly notion that riding a bicycle can cause testicular cancer. With a little common sense, ridiculous myths like this are easily discounted. However, sometimes deciphering the truth is not so simple. Thankfully, AM is here to dispel five of the most common testicular cancer myths.
1 - Surgery causes testicular cancer to spread
Origin: This myth likely originated many years ago when patients may have had very advanced stages of the disease before seeking medical care. Doctors then operated only to find that it had spread. Observers then mistakenly blamed the surgery for causing the disease to spread.
Reality: The truth is that surgery is usually done to prevent cancer from spreading. Testicular cancer, however, presents somewhat of a challenge. For most cancers, a minor procedure known as a biopsy is performed to fully confirm whether someone has cancer or not. Biopsies involve taking small samples of tissue and viewing them under a microscope. In the case of testicular cancer biopsies may indeed spread the cancer, so in practice they are rarely ever performed. Instead, if a man is suspected of having testicular cancer the entire testicle is removed (in a procedure known as an orchiectomy) to eliminate any chance that the cancer will spread.
2 - Testicular cancer will end your sex life
Origin: As mentioned above, surgery for testicular cancer usually involves the removal of one or both testicles. Considering that a man’s meat and potatoes are often viewed as the defining aspect of his manhood, it’s no wonder that men equate the removal of testicles with the end of all sex.
Reality: In the majority of testicular cancer cases, only one testicle is removed. For most of these cases the man will not notice any changes to his sex drive or ability to have children (i.e., fertility). With the removal of both testicles, however, a man does become sterile and is much more likely to lose interest in sex. Although fertility cannot be recovered, hormonal injections may at least take care of issues with sex drive.
3 - Testicular cancer is an old man’s disease
Origin: The occurrence of cancer generally increases with older age; thus, it’s not uncommon to lump all cancers in the old-age category.
Reality: The reality is that testicular cancer is a young man’s disease with most cases occurring in men aged 15 to 40. In fact, testicular cancer is most common in men in their mid-twenties, although it can occur at any age. Thankfully, however, testicular cancer is one of the most easily treatable and curable cancers. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year relative survival rate for all men with this cancer is 95%, so be sure to perform regular self-examinations to catch the cancer as early as possible.
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4 - Vasectomies can cause testicular cancer
Origin: Several decades back, a few studies showed a small increased risk of testicular cancer in men who underwent vasectomy surgeries.
Reality: More recently, much larger studies have found no link between having a vasectomy and developing testicular cancer. With such inconsistency in studies, the National Cancer Institute believes that there is either no association or a very weak association between vasectomy and testicular cancer. The situation is similar for prostate cancer. Thus, even if there is a slight risk, the bottom line is this: Men considering a vasectomy should not use cancer risk to guide their decision.
5 - An undescended testicle will become cancerous
Origin: Cryptorchidism is a disorder where one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum following birth. The disorder has been known to increase the risk of testicular cancer, but by no means does it ensure cancer.
Reality: Testicular cancer is a rare disorder. In patients with undescended testicles, the risk of developing this disease is almost 40 to 100 times greater than the general population; however, since the disorder is so rare, the lifetime risk of developing testicular cancer for individuals with undescended testicles is still only about 2%.
Cracking the Myth Code
Where there’s confusion, myth is born. With the ever-increasing complexity of men's health issues, it’s almost impossible to know what’s true and what’s myth for each and every disease or disorder. The solution then is simple: Remain skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear and don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions. This is the key to cracking the myth code.