North West testicular cancer survivors encourage men to check themselves

April marks Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. Survivors Ant Bigley and Jack Broadley spoke candidly about their experiences and encourage men to come forward. Credit: Ant Bigley/Jack Broadley

Report by Granada Reports Apprentice Journalist Ajai Singh

In 2008, police officer Ant Bigley noticed a swelling on one of his testicles. 

As a precaution, he went to his doctor. He was told that it was likely to be a “trauma” due to an injury he had received in his line of work. He was told to keep an eye on it for a couple of weeks.

However, over the two weeks, Merseyside-born Ant noticed that a lump was growing and he was constantly feeling tired. 

This started six months of tests and appointments before he was asked to an appointment at Liverpool’s Linda McCartney Centre. 

He remembers the exact moment he was told he had testicular cancer. 

By this point, Ant had discovered his cancer was at Stage 3. It had spread from his testicles to his pelvis and had invaded his bloodstream. His doctors were keen to treat him as soon as possible.

Due to the extent of his tumours, he had both of his testicles removed and had to embark on a gruelling course of chemotherapy - almost destroying his immune system.

Jack Broadley from Manchester was 20 when he noticed a lump on his testicle. Due to his dad having had testicular cancer, he went to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t serious.

He was reassured that it was a cyst and that it would go in its own time. 

But six months later, the lump had not disappeared. After going to the doctor for a separate reason, it was by chance that his doctor asked if there was anything else Jack was concerned about. 

Mentioning to the doctor that the lump had not gone, after examination, he was quickly referred for scans.

After a couple of weeks, Jack followed up for the results. But despite him not having received a letter, he was told he had an appointment at the Christie’s Hospital in a couple of hours. 

Despite a bout of anxiety, Jack assumed he would be told the lump was a cyst, but the news he received turned everything into what he called a “blur.”

After having a testicle removed, Jack was given chemotherapy in which two years of fitness gains had reduced him to just eight stone in weeks.

Fortunately, he did not have to go through further invasive surgery but the possibility caused him a “mixed bag of emotions.”

These two men have one thing in common: as soon as they found something amiss, they went to a doctor with their concerns. 

In the UK, around 2,300 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer per year, accounting for 1% of cancers in men.

But 98% of men survive testicular cancer. Often, early diagnosis is the saving grace. 

But in order for a man to have a potentially early diagnosis, sharing concerns with his GP is the starting point. 

Ant says that the stigma of men revealing this part of themselves is one that needs to be eradicated.

He said that whilst embarrassment is human nature, men should consider the consequences of not speaking out earlier - “I would rather be embarrassed than dead.” he said.

He adds that the trauma of treatment meant that he didn’t open up about his experiences for four years but having the courage to do so means he is now “completely the opposite.”

Setting an example, he now goes into schools and groups to speak frankly about his experiences to other young men.

For example, talking openly about how he now has prosthetic testicles has given young men the confidence to ask questions they otherwise would have been uncomfortable sharing. 

In that same spirit, Jack is keen to stress that pre-empting uncomfortable and frank questions partly inspired him to found his own charity, Baggy Trousers, which raises awareness of testicular cancer; the importance of self checking; and setting up safe spaces for survivors to talk candidly about the impact of treatment. 

It was born out of a frustration at the lack of specific groups and resources for people with testicular cancer and their families. 

As a result of their work, Baggy Trousers has empowered men to check themselves and know what to do if something is amiss.

He believes that having these safe spaces have been transformational for men who deal with the challenges after testicular cancer, such as fertility, and takes “great satisfaction” that he has been able to take his experiences to change lives for the better. 

One of the most effective ways that men can protect themselves from testicular cancer is going to their GP as soon as they have concerns. Jack recommends men checking themselves at least once a month.

Typical symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles, or any change in shape or texture of the testicles.

It is important to be aware of what feels normal for you. The advice is get to know your body and see a GP if you notice any changes.

Whilst taking a proactive approach is important, the impact of Covid means that cancer waiting times mean that people could be waiting longer when they have concerns. 

For example, whilst 96.3% of men were seen with two weeks of suspected testicular cancer, an NHS report in 2021 found that only 68.9% of people with urological malignancies (including testicular cancer) began treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. Covid has often been cited as a reason for people not going to the GP.

But Ant and Jack are keen to stress that the development of treatments and the care experience has improved significantly since their treatment. 

As early diagnosis is key in the successful treatment of cancer, the NHS is keen to get more people seen earlier.

For example, the use of mobile ultrasound devices means that scans can happen much more locally for people. Uploading scans to secure networks pools clinical experiences to create what Pritesh Mistry, a technology expert at health think tank The King’s Fund, a “rapid turnaround” for results.

A spokesperson for the NHS said: “Despite disruption caused by the pandemic, cancer has remained a priority for the NHS, with 12 straight months of record high cancer referrals and treatment levels higher than before the pandemic – and it remains vitally important that people experiencing cancer symptoms come forward and get checked.”

It added that treatment levels are now higher than they were before the pandemic.

Robert Huddart, Professor of Urological Cancer at the Institute for Cancer Research who is on the men’s charity Movember's Testicular Cancer Research Advisory Committee said: “Testicular cancer survival rates in the UK are excellent, however early detection and treatment is key.

“It is a highly curable disease if caught early, and early diagnosis also minimises the need for patients to avoid intensive cancer treatment. 

“Anything that can be done to promote young men checking themselves and making an appointment with their GP if they notice anything out of the ordinary, should be prioritised.

“Many young men are likely to be employed in full-time work, which already makes it difficult to secure an in-person appointment with their GP, and Covid has likely exacerbated this, with many GPs encouraged to complete virtual consultations. 

“Where possible, we need to ensure this doesn’t discourage men from seeking medical assistance.”

For Ant and Jack, their advice to men is clear - if something is amiss, be sure to go to your GP and be persistent. It could just save your life.