Are testicles the new breasts?
Not that long ago, breast cancer – or anything mammary-related – was not talked about in polite company, never mind the mainstream media. Today, everybody hearts boobies. There are giant walks for breast cancer. Cancer diagnoses are worn proudly, not hidden shamefully.
Breast is best, nowhere more so than in the medical literature. Thousands of research papers about breast cancer are published every year. Stories about this research is the mainstay of health coverage in the media, and rightfully so. There are, after all, about 150,000 breast cancer survivors in Canada, and 23,000 new cases each year, not to mention more than 5,000 deaths.
The breast cancer movement has become one to emulate: It has power, it has a pink-clad army of supporters, it has money and it has the ear of politicians and scientists, which ensures a lot of research dollars, and a lot of research, as well as new treatments.
Who wouldn't want those benefits?
So now the guys are getting in on the act, trying to draw attention to the tumours that threaten their family jewels. Like the breast cancer movement in its infancy, the burgeoning testicular cancer movement is bold and ballsy – as literally as figuratively.
A recent video making the rounds – or gone viral, to use the social media parlance – is entitled "Nutiquette: A Dude's Guide To Checking His Nuts." The title is a little crude perhaps, but deliberately so because there is a specific demographic in mind. Testicular cancer is, after all, a young man's cancer. This year, an estimated 960 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer and about 29 will die, virtually all of them in the 15-to-29 demographic.
Not only are the big organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society starting to take interest in men's gonads, a bunch of smaller specialized organizations are springing up like Testicular Cancer Canada and Oneball. Having high-profile survivors like Lance Armstrong doesn't hurt either.
Having a health knowledge of one's body and being aware of changes that can be revelatory of serious health problems – like lumps, growths and tenderness of the testicles – is important.
After all, it is well-known that men – and young men in particular – tend to avoid dealing with health problems, especially when things are going wrong "down there." (It is telling that Testicular Cancer Canada was founded by a woman whose partner died of the condition.)
The unfortunate thing, however, is that the new-found mania for the promotion of routine testicular self-examination has no real scientific basis.
For a long time, women were urged to check their breasts at the same time each month in a systematic fashion. Many a pamphlet and video was produced to demonstrate the best method and breast self-examination (BSE) was promoted with religious zeal.
There is no question that catching cancer early is beneficial. But research showed these rituals such as the BSE didn't actually improve early breast cancer detection and didn't reduce mortality. Rather, they resulted in a lot of false alarms and unnecessary fears.
The groups urging the self-testing of testes, unfortunately, seem to be going the same route and not paying much heed to the evidence.
There is a not-so-fine line between empowerment and fear, between awareness and exploitation. At times – and with increasing frequency it seems – the breast cancer movement has crossed those lines.
Breasts should not be viewed as ticking time bombs: Cancer is, for the most part, a disease of aging. The greatest risk, by far, is to women in their 70s and 80s, not to young women who are the face of all the campaigns, campaigns that all too often have degenerated into pink-washing to sell commercial products rather than promote health.
Testicular cancer is a bit different in that it is a cancer of the young. But we have to keep it in perspective: It is very rare, and highly curable.
We need to sack the hysteria. There are no cancer time bombs comfortably ensconced in men's jockeys, with few exceptions. You can be certain, though, that once these issues enter the public domain, there will be a flood of stories.
In recent days, one of the most clicked upon health stories was about some fairly obscure research linking testicle size to nurturing ability. The paper unleashed a wave of cringe-worthy headlines such as Time's "Choose Dads with smaller 'nads."
Women, of course, have grown used to this silliness. There are countless studies correlating breast size and shape and density with all manner of health risks for them and their offspring.
Again, it's healthy for dads and non-dads alike to want healthy gonads, just as it's wise for moms and non-moms to heart their boobies. But we can't lose sight of the fact that these now-not-so-private parts are just one part of an overall package.
We should be paying much more attention to the health of our body and mind, in its totality, and a lot less to dangling bits.