Screening for cancer: Testicular and prostate cancer

Early diagnosis is important for the successful treatment of many diseases. When it comes to cancer, early detection seems especially urgent. In some cases, however, screening is not effective, either because there are no good tests (brain cancer is an example) or because early treatment usually doesn't affect the outcome (pancreatic cancer). In other cases, some screening methods have failed, but others are on the horizon (lung cancer). And in some diseases, screening has proved its value and should be part of everyone's preventive maintenance (colon cancer).

The value of a screening test depends, not on its ability to detect disease, but on its ability to improve a person's outcome, considering both the duration and quality of life. To decide if a test is right for you, ask your doctor to help you balance the risks and side effects of testing and treatment against the benefits you can expect from early treatment. For women, routine Pap smears have dramatically reduced deaths from cancer of the cervix, and research has validated the long-held belief that mammograms reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. For men, self-screening for testicular cancer is easy and logical, if unproven, while testing for prostate cancer is much more important but much less clear-cut. Let's look at the screening issues that apply strictly to men.

Testicular cancer

It's a relatively uncommon disease, with about 8,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. It's a highly curable cancer: It takes only about 400 lives each year. And it's an unusual cancer because it strikes young men, especially white men, between the ages of 20 and 35.

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