Battling Testicular Cancer
Though curable, testicular cancer is often ignored by men who have it.
Dec. 18, 2000 -- The strange, heavy feeling in Jacob Nass'
lower stomach started about two years ago. At first he assumed it was a hernia.
But while vacationing in the Cayman Islands, he went diving and felt a sharp
pain, like someone had just kicked him in the groin.
When the newly married Nass got home, he went to see his
doctor. Three weeks and several tests later, doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center
in Philadelphia told him the bad news: He had a particularly aggressive form of
"I was shocked," says Nass, 29. "You envision
yourself as a healthy person, and to find that you have something
life-threatening kind of throws you a curve."
It's a curve that 6,900 men each year don't see coming,
according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). And while that number ranks the
testicular type among the rarest forms of cancer, it remains the most common
malignancy in young men aged 15 to 35.
Egg-shaped, the testicles are sex glands in the scrotum that
secrete male hormones and produce sperm. As late as the 1980s, a diagnosis of
testicular cancer was grim news for a young man. But over the years, advances
in chemotherapy and other treatments have dramatically reduced the number of
deaths from this killer. Notable survivors include world-class athletes like
two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Olympic gold medallist ice
skater Scott Hamilton, and comedian Tom Green, who chose to chronicle his
treatment experience for the potentially affected age-group -- including the
surgical removal of a testicle -- on his MTV program.
Cases of testicular cancer worldwide had been on the rise for
about the past three decades, according to the ACS. Today, however, researchers
are split on whether those numbers are continuing to grow.
"There has been some consensus that the number of cases is
on a worldwide increase," Uzzo tells WebMD. "[But] I don't think there
is definitive [evidence] to suggest that that is true."
The reason for the continued increase -- if indeed it real --
is the subject of debate as well. Some have even pointed to global warming as a
possible cause. Uzzo points out, however, "I don't think anyone is
convinced that there is a definite [increase] that can be attributed to global
Doctors also aren't completely sure why testicular cancer
fancies young men. Some believe the rapidly dividing sperm and testicular cells
of men in their sexual prime may result in cellular mistakes that become
What doctors do know is that a man born with an undescended
testicle (one that remains in the abdomen rather than ending up in the scrotum
during fetal development) appears to have a significantly greater chance of
testicular cancer, even if the flaw is surgically repaired.