People still have a muddy picture in their minds about testicular cancer. Even among the group affected, men have a vague sense of what it really is. It can be a source of psychological and social distress to those who have had this disease during and after treatment. In this article, we will try to uncover how people generally view testicular cancer and how patients who have this cope with the disease. We will look into the mental health of these patients and how we may be able to help them through an understanding of what they are going through.
The Perception Around Testicular Cancer
Before we head into the actual idea behind testicular cancer, let us first have an overview of how the affected group views this disease. In 2007, the American Journal of Men’s Health published an interesting article about the knowledge of college men about testicular cancer. The researchers conducted six focus group discussions on a total of 31 students asking about testicular cancer risks, screening, treatment, psychological effects, prevention, and cure.
Overall, the focus group discussions showed that the students had poor knowledge of testicular cancer specifics, such as its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. However, the students had note-worthy answers regarding the psychological effects of testicular cancer. The following are some of the beliefs that the students answered:
- The treatment of testicular cancer, which involves removing one or both testicles, suggests the loss of manhood and inadequacy as a man.
- How a person deals with the loss of testicles depends on the individual. A married man might be less burdened than a younger man in early adulthood.
- Sexually active men will worry more about the loss of their testicles.
- You would have to explain your medical condition when you have sexual intercourse.
- Knowledge of testicular cancer is more significant and relevant to those related to someone with the disease. You don’t usually worry about getting it.
From these answers, we have an idea of how testicular cancer can trouble a person with their sexual life and identity. This is also true with patients who have undergone treatment for the disease. To further understand their worries, let’s present the facts about testicular cancer.
What Really Is Testicular Cancer?
As the name implies, testicular cancer involves the development of malignant cancer cells in one or both of the testicles. These abnormal cancer cells develop because of an error in the function of testicular germ cells. The consolidation of these abnormal cells produces tumors that leeches off nutrients for healthy cells. Tumors in the testicle can form more easily in individuals who have these risk factors:
- A history of testicular cancer within your immediate family
- A history of having had testicular cancer before
- Abnormalities in the development of the testicles, such as undescended testicles
If you have these risk factors, doctors recommend having yourself tested for an early diagnosis of the disease, since later stages can involve other parts of the body. Although treatment always has the possibility of infertility, earlier detection of the condition does not necessarily involve intense chemotherapy.
The Situation During And After Treatment
Treatment for testicular cancer may include radiation therapy, surgery to remove the testicles, and chemotherapy. Surveillance and monitoring are also crucial parts of treatment because of how the disease can reoccur in the patient.
The chance of a recurrence is actually one of the troubles that patients have to go through after the removal treatment of testicular cancer. In a systematic review that covered testicular cancer studies from 1977-2017, researchers evaluated the implications of this fear over a recurrence of the disease. Results showed that 1 in 3 testicular cancer survivors experienced fear of recurrence through anxiety.
Even during the treatment, there is already an air of discomfort among patients with testicular cancer and their oncology nurses. A research in 2013 notes that there is a barrier between oncology nurses and their patients when discussing sexual concerns. The following are the concerns ranked from the most comfortable topics to the least:
- The patient’s options in sperm banking
- Fertility and other impacts of the treatment on the patient’s sexual function
- Complications to future sexual relationships
- Concerns about explaining their sexual function to their partners
- Impact of the surgeries on body image
- Impotence, ejaculatory difficulties, and erectile dysfunction
While these topics may be too personal, medical professionals should communicate these concerns properly as they can affect the patient’s psychological state after treatment.
Living With Testicular Cancer Survivors
The psychological state and mental well-being of testicular cancer survivors are dependent on their coping resources. The same systematic review mentioned above states that current coping resources are inadequate. Specifically, the researchers point out that low social support for these survivors can be detrimental to their mental health.
A 2019 review article on the psychological issues of long-term testicular cancer survivors notes that although more and more survivors can now adjust their quality of life and psychological wellness, some are still vulnerable to psychosocial complications. These complications include uncertainty about the future, personal inadequacy, fear of social rejection, stigmatization, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.
To reduce the mental health burdens of testicular cancer survivors, we should be more understanding of their situation. And while being understanding can mean being reserved, it does not hurt to have a little sense of humor.
Humor is one of the most associated concepts for coping with testicular cancer in men. In 2004, an article highlighted the role of humor in testicular cancer patients. It indicates that men apply humor in everyday life to:
- Bring up discussions about the disease
- Manage their feelings
- Dispel and reduce social tension
- Share a sense of solidarity with other patients
- Encourage other men to examine themselves
Although humor can ease difficult interactions by reducing social tension, we should still note that all kinds of humor can go overboard. Make sure that everyone feels comfortable with the joke. We should not make jokes for the sake of humiliation and stigma.