Testicular cancer is not common cancer.
In young men aged 20 to 39 however, it is the second most diagnosed cancer behind non-melanoma skin cancers.
And with the average age of AFL players currently 25.1 years old, it’s no surprise that former Carlton and St Kilda footballer, Sam Rowe, believes that testicular cancer diagnosis in players reflects the demographic the disease targets.
“There seems to be a few more cases popping up in the AFL. I think it’s probably just a reflection on society because the AFL is full of young men. So, the likelihood of these young boys playing footy and getting testicular cancer rather than another disease is probably higher,” Rowe told The Inner Sanctum.
“As far as I’m aware, and I’m no doctor, I don’t think it’s anything to do with contact sport.
“For me, I didn’t have any major knocks to the groin that could have potentially caused some damage.
“I think it’s just one of those things, for whatever reason, gets a lot of young guys.”
Rowe was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was 24 – in just his first year with the Blues.
It was a complete shock for Rowe, who had the mentality that he was young and invincible.
“I was 24, seemingly on top of the world and as far as I thought, I was fit and healthy as I ever have been in my life,” he said.
“It was a huge shock when I first got the news. Then probably the next day, I started to get my head around what was going on.
“The hardest part though was the first week though, you know it looked like testicular cancer, it presented like cancer, but waiting for those tests during that week or so is hard not having the answers.”
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Rowe underwent six weeks of chemotherapy, and his doctors were always confident that the cancer wasn’t life-threatening.
Always a motivated person, Rowe said the cancer made him even more motivated to try and succeed in football, and life in general.
“That aspect of potentially having a very serious health issue makes you appreciate everything else in life,” he said.
“It definitely made me really drive to succeed in what opportunities I had in life and I think I still run on that mantra. I just want to make the most of my opportunities for myself and for my family.”
Testicular cancer in the AFL
This year, Rowe’s former teammate Sam Docherty announced his testicular cancer had returned after his first diagnosis in November 2020. North Melbourne’s Ben Cunnington was diagnosed with testicular cancer for the first time in July.
Docherty was 27 at both diagnoses, while Cunnington was 30.
In 2017, Jesse Hogan – 22 at the time, and Robbie Gray – 29 at the time, were also diagnosed with the form of cancer, further proving Rowe’s opinion that the only correlation between AFL players and testicular cancer diagnosis is the age demographic.
Evidence-reviewed information from the Cancer Council says, “there is no known link between testicular cancer and injury to the testicles or sporting strains.”
Currently, known factors that may increase a man’s risk of testicular cancer is an undescended testicular when an infant, family or personal history or infertility.
Check in on your fellas, fellas
Due to its low diagnosis numbers in Australia (projected to be 980 in 2021) and its high survival rate (97% chance of surviving at least five years), the Cancer Council believes a public education campaign is unlikely to reduce the mortality rate.
Rather, “encouraging testicular self-examination has the potential to create unnecessary anxiety and fear, with no evidence of benefit.”
In saying this, it is important for males to know and check for symptoms; the most comment being a painless lump in a testicle or change in its size or shape.
Rowe said that men need to talk up if they have any health concerns. They should also get checked if they notice anything unusual.
“Guys are just shocking talking about their health. It just doesn’t happen and it’s really hard to break that,” he said.
“The best thing to do is talk about it and talk with your mates about your health. Get checked if you feel something that’s not quite right.
“I think that’s the most important thing, especially with all cancers, and all your health really is to get checked early because the earlier you find things, you’re much more likely of a better outcome.
“I like to try and start those conversations with people when I can and be there for anyone who needs it, and I wish the best of luck to anyone going through it.”
Rowe said he and every other footballer are just other ordinary guys, and it’s warming to receive messages of support from other people who have also had or are being treated for testicular cancer.
“We’re just people and we have issues like anyone else,” he said.
“It’s nice to be able to speak to other people… I’ve spoken to a bunch of other guys who have had testicular cancer. It’s been great to talk to them.
“I know when I was going through it, all I wanted to do is get some reassurance from someone who had been through the same thing.
“I’m definitely happy to talk to anyone going through a similar thing, and it’s nice to get that comfort from someone who has gone through what you’re going through. It’s all about having a community of people and in some sort of strange way.
“It’s nice to know people have been through it too.”
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