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Dying from embarrassment – Andrew Downie TechIOSH

10th – 16th June is Men’s Health Week in the UK, Andrew Downie shared his personal experience of testicular cancer

Women are dying from embarrassment” stated a national tabloid headline which caught my eye very recently.  The gist of the article was a decline amongst British women being tested for cervical cancer. Ultimately, they were potentially putting their lives at risk because they were too embarrassed to be screened. This is an incredibly troubling revelation and clearly shows a need to reverse what appears to be a worrying trend.

This article got me to thinking if this was perhaps the case for men too? Some years ago I caught part of a comedian’s stand-up act on the TV. Amongst his topics of discussion was men’s health, and the subject of testicular cancer. He quoted the advice which he had picked-up from somewhere – that men should check themselves on a regular basis. His punchline was that he didn’t know of any man who didn’t touch his ‘love spuds’ on an hourly basis, let-alone ‘regularly’! Job done, he suggested.

Now, I get the essence of the joke; that your stereotypical male doesn’t need any encouragement to be checking that the old ‘family jewels’ are in working order. Joking aside, I doubt very much that this is really the case. Furthermore, if your typical male did think that something was wrong, would they really pluck up the courage to do something about it? Or, is it more likely that they picture themselves dying from embarrassment and do nothing about it?

Five and a half years ago I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a stage-1 seminoma. Fortunately, it was caught in time, with surgery and chemotherapy being the course of treatment prescribed. At the time I was aware of the advice that men should check themselves on a regular basis. But did I? Hardly ever. Even when I started to feel unbearable pain it was still the last thing that I did. Instead, I came up with a number of excuses for what else might be causing the pain: I’d probably over-exercised; I’d probably had too much sex (or not enough); I was stressed; I was working too hard. Eventually I checked myself, and found a lump…

Getting myself to the GP was the start of doing something about it. The diagnosis, treatment, and the aftercare were swift and well organised. Thank you very much, the NHS!

At this point I think it’s worth sharing some facts with you, courtesy of It’s in the Bag:

– Over 98% of men with testicular cancer are cured.

– Survival rates have risen every year since the 1970s

– It is the most common cancer in men aged 15-49, and peaks in the 25 to 34 age group

– Around 2,400 UK men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year

– It is on the rise, twice as many British men get it now as they did in the mid-1970’s

The It’s in the Bag website offers great advice and support and is well worth a visit, as is checkemlads.com and The Robin Cancer Trust.

The aftermath following treatment for testicular cancer can be as hard as the initial diagnosis. You may suffer with lower testosterone; you may suffer with depression; you may struggle emotionally; and I guarantee that your ball-bag will be lop-sided for the rest of your life (unless you chose to have a prosthetic replacement).

Returning to work will be also be difficult. Whilst I have been fortunate to have incredible line-manager and occupational health support, I appreciate that others may not be so lucky. I would recommend referring to the guidance on returning to work following cancer on the both the IOSH and Macmillan websites.

Despite these challenges, there are two main points that are important to understand. Firstly, statistics show that with early detection of testicular cancer the prognosis can be positive and life expectancy is great. Secondly, testicular cancer doesn’t make you any less a son, a brother, a father, or a husband. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed about.

Yesterday, I visited the oncology department at my local hospital for the last time. Yesterday, I was finally given the all-clear! Sure, my testicles have been seen (and felt) by countless medical practitioners, but, had I not done something about it, had I not got over my embarrassment, I doubt very much that I would be here today.

Which brings me back to my initial thoughts. Ladies and Gentlemen, you may not be completely happy about exposing your private parts to your friendly neighbourhood GP or nurse, but correct me if I am wrong – I don’t believe that it is medically possible to die from embarrassment. If you think that something doesn’t feel right or look right, or if you are due a screening, please take a positive step. Put your embarrassment to one side, just for a moment, and don’t leave it until it’s too late.


Andrew Downie is an Advice and Practice Business Manager for IOSH with a broad range of experience and insight. Check out his LinkedIn profile to find out more – Andrew Downie.


Do you have a story, blog or interview that you would like to share with the HSE People’s network of over 200,000 professionals? Let us know – info@hsepeople.com or call 0044 1572 768 834

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