With advocacy groups such as the Movember Foundation spreading the word about testicular cancer, men have become much more comfortable talking about what can be a delicate topic. In honor of Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, Memorial Sloan Kettering medical oncologists George Bosl and Darren Feldman and social worker David Sarfati break down some of the myths about a cancer that kills hundreds of men every year.
Myth #1: Testicular cancer is common.
Despite testicular cancer’s high profile, it makes up just 1% of all men’s cancers, says Dr. Feldman, an expert in the disease. It affects one in every 263 men over their lifetime, whereas prostate cancer affects one in every seven men.
Myth #2: Older men are at highest risk for testicular cancer.
Most cancers tend to primarily affect older patients, but testicular cancer is different: It mainly strikes men in their teens, 20s, and 30s. So while it is unusual among all men, “it is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 40,” Dr. Feldman says.
Myth #3: Injuring your testicles increases your risk.
“There’s no evidence that trauma leads to testicular cancer,” Dr. Feldman says. Neither do topical creams, horseback riding, or bike riding, for that matter. “I’ve heard everything from getting hit by tennis balls to having a cell phone in your pocket, and all of that is false,” says Dr. Bosl. Indeed, the main risk factors are a family history and being born with something called an undescended testicle, in which the testicle gets stuck in the abdomen instead of descending into the scrotum before birth.
Myth #4: Testicular cancer is hard to treat.
Testicular cancer is the single most curable solid cancer, with a cure rate of more than 95%, says Dr. Feldman. It’s frequently caught early, but even if discovered at a later stage, this type of cancer is highly curable. “No matter how extensive the disease at diagnosis, the possibility of cure exists,” Dr. Bosl says.
Myth #5: Your sex life will suffer if you get testicular cancer.
Most patients can enjoy sex and orgasm just as they did before treatment, assure Drs. Feldman and Bosl. That’s because only the affected testicle is removed during treatment, and the other testicle makes enough testosterone to maintain sex drive and normal erections. Even if there is cancer in both testicles and they both have to be removed, testosterone replacement can get men feeling back to normal.
What’s more, there’s no shame in talking about it. Having concerns about sexual side effects is completely understandable. “A lot of people think, Am I the only person who’s thinking that?” says Mr. Sarfati, who regularly sees testicular patients. “We validate what they’re saying and normalize that this is completely appropriate.”
Myth #6: You can’t have children after treatment.
Because sperm is made in the testicles, many men of childbearing age may worry that testicular cancer will impact their fertility. But that’s not true for the vast majority of men. “You can have normal fertility with one testicle,” Dr. Feldman says. A patient’s sperm count usually returns to its baseline normal post-treatment, adds Dr. Bosl. While there is a 20 to 30% risk of infertility in men who receive chemotherapy, they can bank their sperm before starting, which gives them the opportunity to have children after treatment even if they become infertile.