Raising Awareness of Testicular Cancer:
A Young Survivor Spreads the Word
On May 14, 2012, Patrick Ryan started the day like he always does. A marathon runner, the 27-year-old psychologist got up at 4:00 am to go work out. Something just didn’t feel quite right, though. He felt a dull, aching pain in his right testicle.
After his symptoms persisted for several days, Patrick went to see his doctor, who diagnosed a slight hernia and told him to take antiinflammatory medication and use ice. He also gave Patrick a prescription for an ultrasound.
“In the right testicle where I was having pain, there was no problem,” Patrick said, “but the ultrasound showed a large mass on the left testicle.”
Andrew Joel, MD, a urologist with Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group - Urology (former Washington Urology), saw Patrick that same day. His parents and his fiancée went with him to the appointment.
“He had the best bedside manner,” Patrick said of Dr. Joel. “He could see I was terrified.”
Dr. Joel explained that since any solid testicular mass is viewed as cancer until proven otherwise, surgery is the primary treatment. Patrick underwent surgery the next day. The pathology report confirmed that he had early-stage testicular cancer, which is fairly rare, but is the most common cancer in men ages 15 to 34. It also is 25 percent more common in Caucasian males. Risk factors may include having an undescended testicle and family history. Patrick’s father had testicular cancer as a young man.
Patrick’s case was unusual because he was in pain; most testicular cancers are painless. More commonly, patients experience swelling and enlargement.
Unfortunately, some patients wait three to six months to see a doctor after noticing an abnormality, Dr. Joel notes. “We are dealing with a young patient population. They feel invincible and tend to ignore their symptoms.”
“I was lucky that I followed my instinct to pursue seeing the doctor and getting an ultrasound,” Patrick said.
After his surgery and diagnosis, Patrick was referred to John Feigert, MD, medical oncologist. Dr. Feigert explained to him that testicular cancer is highly treatable. His options were surveillance, which would involve frequent CT scans and physical exams, chemotherapy or radiation. It was an especially important decision because treatment for testicular cancer may carry a risk of impacting fertility.
“I asked Dr. Feigert what he would recommend if I were his son,” Patrick said. “He said I should do chemo, just in case there were a few cancer cells still around. He encouraged me to talk to my girlfriend and to make this decision together. He said it would bring us closer together.”
After talking to his family and his girlfriend (who is now his fiancée), Patrick decided to have chemotherapy. It was a single treatment that had relatively minor side effects. He is now cancer-free and will be monitored through regular checkups for several years. His chance of cure is 97 percent.
Patrick is back at work and is using his own experience to counsel patients in his psychology practice who are affected by cancer. He also is speaking to university psychology programs about the mental impact of cancer on young adults. “The physical part of my recovery was easy. The mental part was the hardest,” Patrick recalls.
He’s also trying to increase awareness about the importance of knowing what’s normal for your body and doing regular self-exams. Patrick has launched a “Get ‘Em Checked” campaign to encourage other men to examine their testicles monthly.
“Awareness is paramount,” Dr. Joel says. “Testicular cancer is often a silent disease. What brings young men to the doctor for earlier treatment is being aware of their own bodies and recognizing when something doesn’t feel right.”
To schedule an appointment with Virginia Hospital Center Physcian Group - Urology
, call 703.717.4200