Italian cyclist Ivan Basso has just withdrawn from the 2015 Tour de France after discovering that he is suffering from testicular cancer.
Basso announced at a news conference yesterday, Monday the 13th of July that he had been given the devastating news just two hours before, "We discovered this two hours ago. I have to stop."
The diagnosis was an indirect result of a testicular injury Basso sustained during stage 5 of the race. After enduring the pain for a few days, Basso went for a medical examination where a lump was discovered. Further testing at a Pau hospital revealed that the lump was cancerous. Basso explains:
“It’s easy to understand that I have to stop and go back to Italy. Our doctor is in contact with the specialist in Italy to fix the operation for as soon as possible. Of course I can’t say more details because we discovered this just two hours ago, but I have to leave.”
Basso is expected to undergo surgery as soon as possible and his team doctor at Tinkoff-Sax, Dr. Piet de Moor expects him to make a full recovery.
Basso is not the first cyclist to suffer testicular cancer. Lance Armstrong, is perhaps the most famous testicular cancer patient of our time. Lance was forced to drop out of the 1996 Tour de France after being diagnosed with cancer. He later went on to win the Tour de France seven times but was later stripped of his titles in 2012 as a result of a doping scandal. Lance deposited sperm into a sperm bank before receiving treatment in 1996 and he has fathered four children since.
Read: Lance Armstrong: the harms of doping
Get the facts on testicular cancer
Considering that testicular cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer to afflict men between 15 and 35, you’d think guys would be more concerned about it. You’d expect it to be a regular topic of discussion in sports bars and gym changing rooms everywhere. You’d expect educational awareness posters above every men’s room urinal.
The reality: nothing. Not a sausage.
Actually, the penis gets plenty of airtime, it’s the testicles that go entirely unmentioned. The real irony behind our manly obsession with penises is that our Johnsons are merely a crude delivery system for the marvels of evolution that are our gonads. While the penis gets all the glory, the testicles just seem to dangle and swing along in a state of benign neglect until an errand cricket ball or accidental knee to the groin reminds us of their delicacy.
Testicular cancer is a disease in which cells in one or both testicles become malignant, launching into a destructive spree of uncontrolled and abnormal growth and division. If left untreated it can lead to death within two to three years. Fortunately the condition is easily detected, and can be treated very effectively.
Although there are no official statistics for South Africa, there is a very marked difference in the incidence of testicular cancer between different racial groups. While it is common among white and coloured men, it very rarely afflicts black South Africans.
Read: Shocking photos of the 2015 Tour de France injuries
What are the warning signs?
The following are common symptoms of testicular cancer and if you have any of them, you should consult a doctor without delay.
- A painless lump in one or both testicles
- Hardening of one or both testicles
- A dull ache or heaviness in the scrotum
- An increase or decrease in the size of one or both testicles
- A dull ache in the lower abdomen, back or groin
- A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- Blood in your semen
- A loss of interest in sexual activity
- Shortness of breath, bone pain, nausea and vomiting.
Read: How cycling can cause erectile dysfunction
Check you package
While it’s impossible to prevent the development of testicular cancer, detecting it early is within everyone’s grasp and early detection means a significantly increased chance of successful treatment.
From the onset of puberty, every male should examine his testicles on a monthly basis. Now, while most men don’t exactly need an invitation to juggle their jock furniture, what’s necessary is a more purposeful palpitation of your privates than you may be familiar with.
Dr. Susan Jewell talk you through the proper technique of examining your testicles in this handy video clip.
Are you at risk?
A cause for testicular cancer has not been identified as yet, but certain circumstances are known to increase the risk of contracting the disease.
- Men with undescended testicles have a five to ten times greater chance of developing testicular cancer than the general population, even if the testes have been surgically moved from inside the abdomen into the scrotum.
- If you’ve already had cancer in one testicle, you are at an increased risk of getting it in the other one as well.
- If your father or brother has testicular cancer, your own susceptibility is raised four- to ten-fold.
- The presence of carcinoma, the precursor to testicular cancer, is an obvious warning sign.
- Men who suffer from infertility, were born with an abnormal penis, testicles or kidneys, or whose mother received oestrogen during pregnancy are also at an increased risk.
- There’s a possibility that physical trauma and damage to the testicles as a result of mumps may also contribute to a raised risk for testicular cancer.
Read: Men with small testicles are better fathers
Here’s the good news: more than 90 percent of men with testicular cancer are cured. In the majority of cases the first line of attack involves a radical inguinal orchidectomy. Yes, that’s fancy medical lingo for cutting one of your balls off. The affected testicle is removed via an incision made into the groin. As many as 80 percent of all patients are cured by this procedure alone.
Depending on the type of testicular cancer, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of the two may be necessary to kill any remaining cancerous cells. Another standard treatment that may be required is a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection in which a series of affected lymph glands are surgically removed. Since testicular cancer can be recurrent, regular follow-up examinations are very important for all patients.
What about prosthetics
If the thought of losing a testicle has you worried about coming across a little, well, lob-sided, a prosthetic testicle implant will restore the natural balance. And in case you’re worried: a single normal testicle is enough to maintain a man’s fertility and testosterone production. Single-ballers can still have erections and produce sperm, and their sexual performance and appetite should not be affected in the long run. Testicular cancer is not contagious, by the way, so you can’t infect your sex partners with it.
Having said all that, treatment of testicular cancer can lead to infertility. Retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, for instance, can lead to retrograde ejaculation - ejaculation backwards into the bladder instead of out of the penis - leading to dry, infertile orgasms. If both testicles have to be removed, the body will no longer be able to produce sperm or testosterone, and testosterone replacement therapy is required.
To keep their options open, testicular cancer patients are often advised to deposit sperm in a sperm bank for future use.
It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong
One Lump or Two?: A Humorous Story of One Man's Fight Against Testicular Cancer by Darren Couchman
Hollywood Causes Cancer: The Tom Green Story by Tom Green
Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
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Health24.com; Cancer Association of South Africa; US National Cancer Institute; US National Library of Medicine.
Originally published by Health24 in July 2009. Updated July 2015