A: It’s highly unlikely.
Look up and down any shopping strip on a Saturday afternoon, and you’ll see that tight pants are the favoured look for many of the nation’s young men.
But could wearing such restrictive garments be damaging their testicles, and could that put them at an increased risk of testicular cancer?
Testicles are usually at a cooler temperature than the rest of the body, explains Associate Professor Guy Toner, a consultant medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Victoria.
The theory is that tight underwear and pants may cause an increase in temperature resulting in lower sperm counts and an increased risk of testicular cancer.
Happily for fans of the stove-pipe look, the available evidence doesn’t support this theory.
“As far as we know those factors don’t have an impact, but it’s hard to say there’s strong evidence that they don’t,” says Toner.
It’s the same story with injuries to the testicles or being an avid cyclist – which an internet search will reveal are often cited as causing testicular cancer.
On the up
So if none of these factors are likely to cause testicular cancer, what does? Well, the simple answer is that no-one really knows.
“Testicular cancer is relatively rare in the community, but it’s a common cancer in young men aged 15 to 39,” Toner says. “There are about 700 cases around Australia each year.”
Although the cancer is rare, it has been on the increase since the 1950s in Australia and in other western countries. Experts are still trying to work out why.
There are several theories, Toner explains, many of which centre around the development of male foetuses in the womb. One study has suggested that smoking during pregnancy could increase the risk of testicular cancer.
There are other theories that suggest the levels of hormones that male babies are exposed to in the womb may be related to the later development of testicular cancer. But Toner stresses, all of this is currently speculation.
Known risk factors
While the causes of testicular cancer remain uncertain, there are some factors that we know are associated with an increased risk of developing testicular cancer.
Men who were born with an undescended testicle are more likely to develop testicular cancer, as are men born with some other types of genital abnormalities, including hypospadias – a condition where the opening of the urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder) is in the wrong place.
If your father or your brother has had testicular cancer, you are more likely to develop it – suggesting a genetic cause of the disease.
But Toner notes that the link is stronger between brothers than it is between fathers and their sons, perhaps suggesting environmental, not just genetic, factors are at play. There are only a small number of families with multiple members affected, indicating that most cases of testicular cancer are unlikely to have a genetic basis.
Can you protect yourself?
With so many questions remaining around the cause of testicular cancer, pretty much the only thing we can be sure about is the need for more research on the disease.
But in the meantime, what should young men be doing to protect themselves?
Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle is unlikely to hurt, says Toner, but there is little hard evidence to suggest it is protective against testicular cancer in particular.
There is also some debate about the value of self-examination to detect signs of testicular cancer.
Public health organisations haven’t run campaigns to promote the practice, as there is no evidence it would result in less men dying from testicular cancer.
However, in his own practice Toner recommends men become aware of the usual shape and feel of their testicles and self-exam their testicles once a month to look for any changes.
“Generally it’s a good idea to do that in the shower when the scrotum is relaxed,” Toner suggests.
The most common symptom associated with testicular cancer is a painless lump in the testicle. Sometimes a man might notice a change in the size of a testicle, or feel an ache in their testicle or scrotum.
If you do notice a change, Toner says you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to see your doctor.
The good news is testicular cancer has an excellent cure rate, but Toner stresses the outlook is better the earlier it is picked up.
“Most of us [in the field] would agree that the community should be more aware of testicular cancer,” he says.
“The earlier the diagnosis, the better the result.”