‘Take your health seriously. You only have one body and one life.’
Those are the words of testicular cancer survivor Ashley Tapp, 47.
‘If you suspect something is wrong, book an appointment with your GP, and if you are in pain, book an emergency appointment,’ he says. ‘As with all cancers, early diagnosis and treatment are key to survival.’
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month – and on average, throughout the month, six men a day will be diagnosed with the disease. Since the early 1990s, testicular cancer cases in the UK have increased by 29%.
However, since the 1970s testicular cancer mortality rates have decreased by 81%. More recently, 94% of men diagnosed survive for five years or more, and 91% for ten years or more.
One of those is Ashley, who was diagnosed almost 20 years ago.
‘It’s been a long time now since I was diagnosed,’ he says. ‘I have been in remission for many years now and I feel fine.
‘But cancer has had a profound effect on my life. I lost one of my sisters to a brain tumour shortly after I had recovered. That was more devastating than my cancer.’
Ashley was in his late twenties when he started to feel pain and a small lump in his right testicle. He also saw blood in his urine.
‘I went to my local GP twice but was only referred to a hospital after two months when I was in severe pain,’ he says. ‘I was diagnosed in St George’s Hospital Tooting, London.
‘By the time I was diagnosed it had spread into my lymph system. I had a teratoma, a highly aggressive testicular cancer. I had always been healthy, swam in the Masters swim team and there was no history of cancer in my family, so it was a real shock.
‘As my cancer had spread, I was given a 50% chance of survival, which was an alarming prospect at the time. I was on my own when I was told and felt very alone and vulnerable.’
Given the extent of the cancer, Ashley had to begin treatment almost immediately, leaving little time to decide how and when to tell family and friends.
‘I’m a triplet so the first people I told were my two sisters Penelope and Miranda, and Mum and Dad,’ he says. ‘They were all a bit shell shocked as you can imagine.
‘I had my right testicle removed in surgery within a week and an implant inserted, then a week later started three cycles of aggressive chemotherapy.
‘I was given cisplatin, which Cancer Research UK helped develop, etoposide, and bleomycin. Bleomycin can cause lung damage in some patients, so I took part in a clinical trial, which Cancer Research UK helped to fund, to see whether using a lower dose over a longer time reduces this risk.
The Macmillan Cancer Support guide to self-examination
Checking for testicular cancer is sometimes called testicular self-examination. Doing this regularly means you will soon get to know what feels normal for you. A normal testicle should feel smooth and firm, but not hard.
It can be easier to check the testicles during, or right after, a warm bath or shower when the scrotal skin is relaxed. Hold the scrotum in the palm of your hand. Use your fingers and thumb to examine each testicle. You should feel for:
- lumps or swellings
- anything unusual
- differences between the testicles
It is normal for the testicles to be slightly different in size. It is also normal for one to hang lower than the other.
The epididymis (tube that carries sperm) is behind the top of each testicle. It feels like a soft, coiled tube. It is common to get harmless cysts or benign lumps in the epididymis. The treatment for these can vary.
‘I’m lucky as I don’t seem to have any lung damage following treatment and am proud to have taken part in the trial and contributed to improving treatment.’
After making a full recovery, Ashley ran the London Marathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK, a charity focused on better understanding and treatment of all cancers.
It’s a startling stat, but the charity reports now one in two people will develop cancer in their lifetime. That’s one reason there are more cancer awareness months than months in the calendar – testicular cancer has to share April with bowel cancer, followed by bladder and skin cancer in May.
But awareness really is key – not of the months, but symptoms. For men, that means regularly checking your testicles.
For Ashley however, the month is another chance to reflect on his experiences.
‘I try to make the most of every day,’ he says.
‘Luckily I am a very positive person, otherwise my story may have been very different.’
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