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World Cup warning for top teams’ tackle

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by Cancer Research UK | News

6 June 2002

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Men from Europe’s top footballing nations are at least five times more likely to get testicular cancer than those from World Cup hosts Japan and South Korea.

Germany, France, Italy and England top the testicular cancer rankings – according to a league table1 highlighted by Cancer Research UK – Europe’s largest cancer charity.

And among the countries competing against England in the World Cup’s Group F, Sweden and Argentina have high rates of testicular cancer compared with Nigeria which ranks at the bottom of the league with Korea.

“The cause of testicular cancer remains a mystery but we do know that some men have a higher risk of developing the disease,” says Professor Gordon McVie, Director General (Fundraising and Communications) of Cancer Research UK. “If one or both of a boy’s testicles hasn’t descended he has a greater chance of developing testicular cancer. The risk is also higher if a close family member has been diagnosed with the disease.

“As our league table indicates white men, particularly those from higher-income backgrounds, are more likely to develop testicular cancer than black or Asian men.”

Statistics from Cancer Research UK show that the disease – which is the most common cancer in men aged 15-45 – has risen by 84 per cent in Britain since the late 1970’s.

Figures from Cancer Research UK’s league table, show that the incidence for testicular cancer in England is 5.6 per 100,000 men.

This is matched by 5.8 in Italy, 6.3 in France, 6.2 in Sweden and a high scoring 8.9 in Germany. All these countries rank in the top 25 for testicular cancer incidence. Sweden is 16th with 6.2. and Argentina comes 31st with an incidence of 4.3 per 100,000.

And for once it’s good news to be at the bottom of the league table as are South Korea and Nigeria scoring just 0.6 and ranking jointly at 119th with Japan at 1.3 in 72nd place.

Genetics are increasingly believed to play a vital role in learning more about testicular cancer.

“Inherited factors play a more important role in testicular cancer than in other cancers,” according to Dr Douglas Easton, director of Cancer Research UK’s genetic epidemiology unit at Cambridge University.

“We know there is a gene on the X chromosome that is linked to testicular cancer and work is going on to identify several others. But we do not know why the incidence has risen so sharply over the last century. It is particularly prevalent in the West as the league table shows.

“The main established risk for this form of the disease is an undescended testicle but if you have a brother with testicular cancer your risk is eight times greater than someone without a family history.”

Dr Easton believes that the rise in incidence of this kind of cancer could be connected to a change in lifestyle. “There is a decline in fertility in the West and whatever causes low sperm count could have relevance to testicular cancer. But there is no hard evidence for this.”

England manager Sven Goran Erikkson has backed Cancer Research UK’s call to football clubs throughout the country to join the fight to raise awareness of testicular cancer particularly during June, which is Men’s Cancer Awareness Month.

“I am delighted to do my bit to raise awareness of testicular cancer. Because this form of cancer threatens men of football-playing age in particular, it is very important to know the facts, be responsible and not hesitate to seek medical advice,” he says.

Latest figures from Cancer Research UK show that around 1,800 British men are now diagnosed with testicular cancer each year compared with only 850 per year in the late 1970’s.

Today testicular cancer is almost always curable if detected early. The disease responds well to treatment even if it has spread to other parts of the body. Survival has improved dramatically throughout the UK since the early 70’s and now 95 per cent of patients survive for at least five years.

The charity, in partnership with the Department of Health, has published a leaflet with information on testicular cancer and advice on what to look out for. Warning signs include:

  • a hard lump on the front or side of a testicle
  • swelling or enlargement of a testicle
  • an increase in firmness of a testicle
  • pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
  • an unusual difference between one testicle and the other


  1. J.Ferlay, F. Bray, P. Pisani and D.M. Parkin. GLOBOCAN 2000: Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence Worldwide, Version 1.0. IARC CancerBase No. 5 (Lyon) IARCPress, 2001.