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medingenuityWhen Your Sperm Turns Red

No one read the newspapers the last week in July and couldn't help but notice and admire the courage of Lance Armstrong, the 1999 Tour de France winner of the most prestigious race in bicycling. Lance Armstrong had cancer of the testicle that spread to his lungs and brain when it was diagnosed three years ago. Lance Armstrong was not in just a bike race but in a race for his life. He made a comeback after multiple surgeries and several courses of chemotherapy that was considered impossible by nearly everyone except Lance Armstrong!

Cancer of the testicle occurs rarely; only 2 or 3 men in 100,000 develop it annually. However, it does develop in younger men, generally between the ages of 20 and 35, making it the most common malignancy in younger men.

The cause of testicle cancer is unknown but seems to be associated with both a genetic as well as environmental influences. For example, the undescended testicle, remaining in the higher temperature of the abdominal cavity, is at a greater risk for developing testicle cancer. It is for this reason that men with undescended testicles should have them surgically brought down to their normal position in the scrotum. Trauma and even prolonged bicycle riding, as done by Lance Armstrong, does not pose an increased risk for testicle cancer.

The diagnosis is made by identifying a painless lump in the testicle. The testicle is usually soft and compressible. When a hard, firm or marble-like lump is felt, this requires a closer examination by your physician. Usually a physician will order an ultrasound examination and a few blood tests, alpha-feto protein and beta HCG. If the ultrasound demonstrates a solid mass in the testicle or the blood tests are abnormal, a referral will be made to a urologist who will perform surgery to remove the mass and the entire testicle. Having one testicle removed will not affect a man's potency and may not affect his fertility. Men with one testicle are potent and often virile.

If the cancer is undetected, the cancer has a tendency to spread to the liver, lungs, and lymph nodes and even the brain as was the case for Lance Armstrong. Whether the cancer has spread will determine the proper treatment and predict the survival of the disease. Tumors localized to the testicle can be treated by careful follow-up every 3-4 months for several years. Tumors that have spread to the lymph nodes, and other distant sites may require additional surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

The prognosis or survival of men with localized testicle cancer is nearly 100% which emphasizes the powerful life-saving impact of early detection and early treatment. Effective chemotherapies also improve the survival of men with testicle tumors that have spread beyond the testicle with a cure rate of over 95%. Just think you could even become a world class athlete after treatment for testicle cancer. Great job, Lance. You are an inspiration to every man, woman or child with cancer. Take home message: check yourself out at least once a month and report any lumps and bumps to your physician.

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