By Rita Colorito
WHEN HER THEN 17-year-old son, Tim
Ellis, complained of excruciating low back
and groin pain, Tracy Grist of Draper, Utah,
rushed him to the emergency room. “Within
an hour of an ultrasound, we were told he had
testicular cancer and that it had spread to his
lungs, abdomen and aorta, and they weren’t
sure where else,” recalls Grist. “In a blink of an
eye, life changed.”
Tests the next day revealed that Tim’s tes-
ticular cancer had also spread into and past
his lymph nodes. Doctors didn’t think he
would live, and told Grist and her family to
prepare for the worst.
While testicular cancer is extremely
rare—a man’s lifetime chance of developing it
is one in 270, compared with a woman’s one-in-eight lifetime chance of developing breast
cancer—Tim’s grim diagnosis was even more
so. If caught early, testicular cancer has a cure
rate of 99 per cent and usually just involves
surgical removal of the affected testicle. If the
cancer spreads to nearby lymph nodes and
not other organs, with immediate secondary
therapies, such as chemotherapy or radiation,
the cure rate is 96 per cent.
“We just expect it to be cured,” says Dr.
Christopher Porter, a urologist and testicular
cancer expert with the Testicular Cancer
Program at Virginia Mason Medical Center’s
satellite office in Seattle.
These are amazing survival statistics for
any cancer, yet each year there are 940 new
cases of testicular cancer in Canada. It’s the
leading cancer in men ages 15 to 29. Among
the fastest-moving of cancers, it’s one disease
where early detection makes a real difference.
And perhaps the best way to catch it is with a
monthly self-exam while showering.
Grist, who has three sons and four daughters, says she never knew young men were at
risk for testicular cancer. “I knew about breast
cancer self-exams for my daughters. I never
knew young men should be doing these self-exams once a month,” she says.
Knowing the risks of
Most professional medical associations in
both the United States and Canada, however,
do not recommend screening for testicular
cancer, citing lack of evidence that screening
results in earlier detection or a better cure
rate, says Dr. Michael Jewett, a urologic oncol-ogist and testicular cancer specialist with the
Genitourinary Clinic at The Princess
Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. While
Jewett doesn’t advocate for full-blown screening, he says it’s up to young men to pay attention to their body and their health.
Each year the clinic sees roughly 150
testicular cancer patients. “We see the intelligent group who you hope would be your
son who finds the little nodule, and then
you have the kid who comes in with the
grapefruit-size lump who was too embarrassed to talk to someone, so it’s very clear
there are people who would benefit from
awareness,” says Jewett.
Early detection can also help patients
avoid or limit the use of chemotherapy and
radiation, ensuring better health outcomes in
the future. “Those types of therapies expose
these young men—even though they cure tes-
ticular cancer—to significantly increased
risks of other cancers later in their life,” says
Porter. “And the secondary therapies can
affect fertility. We’d like to maintain the qual-
ity of life for those men. So those are the real
main reasons for diagnosing it early.”
According to the Canadian Cancer
Society, men at higher risk (e.g., men having a
personal or family history of testicular cancer,
Klinefelter syndrome, and men born without
testes or having only one testicle) should talk
to their doctor about getting tested.
If you suspect testicular cancer, see your
doctor right away. “Any abnormality of the
testicle should be considered to be cancer
until proven otherwise. So that means that
anybody who detects anything at all should
get a professional opinion,” says Jewett.
Tim Ellis had felt discomfort in his testicle for two years prior to his diagnosis, but
chalked it up to a sports injury. Diagnosed in
January 2012, he was declared cancer-free in
May 2012, after an 11-hour surgery and four
cycles of aggressive chemotherapy.
Now that her son is healthy again, Grist
says her role is to help spread the word about
early detection. “I want moms and dads to
know: Take time to talk to your kids.” C
Rita Colorito is a freelance health writer.
Testicular cancer is
the leading cancer in
men ages 15 to 29.
TEN YEARS ago this
November, Cheryl Perry
lost her son, Adam, 18, to
testicular cancer. Like
many young men who
may be embarrassed to
discuss their changing
body, two years prior,
Adam had felt a lump in
and swelling of his testicle, but didn’t tell anyone.
“He just thought his
body was growing, and
we hear that a lot from
other boys,” says Perry,
who founded Testicular
Cancer Canada in 2007 to
fulfill Adam’s dream of
educating other young
men about early detection,
and speaking up.
In the last six years,
the Ontario-based non-
profit has given away
thousands of pieces of
educational material to
Canada, from hospitals,
schools and universities to
laundromats, fitness cen-
tres and military installa-
tions. The group often gets
requests for its self-exam
shower cards from par-
ents. A step-by-step guide
is also available on its
Canada’s latest campaign,
“It’s That Time of the
Month,” aims to make self-exams a matter of habit.
“It has a bit of a ring to it,
so it gets them talking,”
says Perry, a Costco member. “We want them to
talk about the disease and
get away from this embarrassment of it.”—RC