Leanring about Testicular Cancer
- In 1996, cyclist Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced-stage testicular cancer at 25 years old. He overcame the cancer, but later had to deal with the repercussions of his doping scandal. Even still, he’s made a successful career for himself today.
- Symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle. Some people may even confuse the early symptoms such as a small mass in their testicle as an injury. But when these signs are dismissed, the cancer can grow and become worse.
- Self examinations are incredibly important when it comes to screening for testicular cancer. Men aged 15 to 55 should perform a monthly self-examination to find any changes in the testes that might indicate cancer at an early stage.
- Testicular cancer survivors may come across issues with fertility after overcoming the disease, but this is not always the case. Either way, you should discuss possible side effects and fertility preservation options with your doctor before starting treatment.
Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer at a very young age, but he returned to his sport with a vengeance. From there, his record-setting athletic career was many things – including rocky.Read More
But even his fall from grace in the cycling world didn’t stop the testicular cancer survivor from achieving his dreams. He’s started his own successful sports podcasts – The Forward and TheMove – both of which are a part of his larger endurance sports media company WEDŪ. WEDŪ itself also organizes athletic events and sells athletic apparel.
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Lance Armstrong’s Cycling Career & Cancer Battle
In 1996, Lance Armstrong became the first American to win the La Flèche Wallonne, a men’s professional cycle road race in Belgium, and won his second Tour DuPont, a cycling stage race in the United States held annually between 1989 and 1996, according to ESPN.
He had previously won stages of the Tour de France, a men’s professional cycling event widely considered to be the biggest sporting event in the world. But that same year, even though he only competed for five days of the competition, he went on to participate in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. There, he finished sixth in the time trial competition and 12th overall in the road race.
He was on top of the cycling world.
But his world seemingly came crashing down around him in October 1996 when the young star cyclist was diagnosed with advanced-stage testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs, brain and abdomen. He was just 25 years old.
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“I intend to beat this disease, and further I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist,” he said when announcing his diagnosis nearly two decades ago in 1996, and he did just that.
Armstrong went through chemotherapy treatments, his last round being in December 1996. He was declared cancer-free in 1997 – the same year he launched the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was later renamed Livestrong. (*Cue to yellow “Livestrong” bracelets.) The organization was started to support cancer patients and research.
Armstrong then returned to the cycling world and won his first Tour de France in 1999.
“No day means more to me than this one,” he posted to Instagram on Oct. 2, 2021, 25 years since his cancer diagnosis. “Hard to fathom it’s been 25 years since I heard those dreadful words that millions of us have heard — ‘you have cancer.’”
“… I didn’t know if I would live 25 minutes, 25 hours, or 25 weeks. Truly blessed to have made it this far. What a journey it’s been and continues to be. Wouldn’t trade a second of it. To all who have hung in there through thick and thin, I love you more than you’ll ever know. And remember, it’s FORWARD never straight.”
“I hope it sends out a fantastic message to all survivors around the world,” Armstrong said to the crowd at the Tour de France finish line in Paris. “We can return to what we were before — and even better.”
Understanding Lance Armstrong’s Type of Cancer: Testicular Cancer
A testicular cancer diagnosis is rare, but it is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in young men. Depending on the stage, the disease is considered extremely treatable. Treatment options can include chemotherapy and radiation, but often the first line of treatment is surgery to remove the testicle which contains the cancerous cells.
Symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle. Some people may even confuse the early symptoms such as a small mass in their testicle as an injury. But when these signs are dismissed, the cancer can grow and become worse.
“It’s not uncommon to see men come in with masses on their scrotum and have inflammation of the scrotal wall; they develop pain as a result. A lump is the most common symptom of testicular cancer,” Dr. Edwin Posadas, the medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer, previously told SurvivorNet.
Dr. Posadas says some men may even notice blood in their ejaculate as a result of testicular cancer. “This symptom is less common, but always bad,” he said.
Other symptoms can include:
- Breast growth or soreness
- Early puberty in boys
- Low back pain (a potential symptom of advanced testicular cancer)
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, or a cough (a potential symptom of advanced testicular cancer)
- Belly pain – (a potential symptom of advanced testicular cancer)
- Headaches or confusion (a potential symptom of advanced testicular cancer)
Dr. Posadas urges young men to seek medical care if they are having symptoms. “Most men under the age of 40 tend not to think about seeing a doctor – they need to know to advocate for themselves,” he said.
Screening for Testicular Cancer
Testicular self-examination is one way to screen for this disease, Dr. Posadas says.
“It takes less than a minute,” Dr. Posadas previously told SurvivorNet. “Rub testicles through your fingers – looking for any sore areas. Rub the top of the testicle, particularly the delicate epididymis. (The epididymis is a tube at the back of the testicles which stores and carries sperm.)
“Don’t squeeze real hard on there… [You should] look for a smoother feel; if you feel a hard nodule on there, you may require blood work from a urologist. [Testicular cancer] is highly curable, even when it’s advanced.”
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Bradley McGregor, clinical director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also emphasized the importance of self-examinations.
“It is recommended that men aged 15 to 55 perform a monthly self-examination to find any changes to help find the cancer at an early stage,” Dr. McGregor said. And if someone spots any of the early symptoms, “he should visit his doctor immediately.” It’s important to be aware of your body and get in touch with a doctor if you notice anything unusual.
“Testicular cancer commonly occurs from ages 20-45, but it can occur at any age,” Dr. McGregor continued. “The highest risk factor for testicular cancer is a history of cryptorchidism, an undescended testicle, where the testicle does not move down into the scrotum before birth. Men with a family history of testicular cancer are at increased risk as well. No lifestyle changes have been shown to definitively reduce risk of testicular cancer.”
Fertility after Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer survivors may come across issues with fertility after overcoming the disease, but this is not always the case. Treatment for this cancer can “affect hormone levels and can also affect your ability to father children after treatment,” according to the American Cancer Society, so you should discuss the possible effects with your doctor before beginning treatment to understand all the options you have at hand.
One route people with the disease can take it to store sperm in a sperm bank before treatment starts. But testicular cancer can result in low sperm counts, so getting a good sample may be tricky. Also, if only one testicle is left after treatment, fertility returns following treatment – typically about two years following chemotherapy.
But it’s important to remember that testicular cancer does not mean fatherhood is out of the question by any means – and some people who’ve overcome testicular cancer might not see any issues at all.
Todd Rosenbluth, for example, became a father after having testicular cancer. But when he and his wife wanted to start a family following his cancer battle, things were difficult despite his cancer not being an issue.
Rosenbluth was diagnosed with testicular cancer in his late 20s after his wife urged him to go to his annual appointment with his doctor. He then had surgery to remove one testicle and overcame the disease, but fertility issues came later despite his doctor telling him the couple’s struggles to have a child were unrelated to his cancer.
“Unrelated to the testicular cancer, my wife and I did have fertility issues,” Rosenbluth previously told SurvivorNet. “We had been trying for four years to have a child. They tell you it’s not related to the fertility issues at all. But in your head, when you’re having all these troubles, and you did lose a testicle, you feel the blame.”
Eventually, though, everything did work out. He and his wife had a beautiful son, Milo, in March 2018. That’s when Rosenbluth finally felt free from his past cancer battle.
“The safest I felt with my testicular cancer was when my son was born,” he said.
Contributing: Sydney Schaefer