Perusing the Times’s Top 10 Men’s Health Myths, I find this one at number three:
MYTH: Men should regularly examine their testicles
WHO SAYS? Men’s health support groups and charities, all of whom need something to write about or campaign for. But, notably, not cancer and screening boffs and profs who can spot a myth quicker than you can say “Scan my testicles”.
WHAT’S THE TRUTH? Thankfully, testicular cancer is even rarer than Saturday appointments; the average GP sees two or three new cases in his entire career. When it does occur, it usually produces a symptom, a heaviness, ache or obvious swelling, to draw your attention to it. So the chances of finding an unsuspected cancer via a routine feel-around are about the same as winning the lottery. Whereas the odds of finding something harmless, a cyst, swollen veins, normal bits of gristle, are high. Cue anxious males clutching their privates pleading for appointments and tests, thereby lengthening waiting times for the poor sods who really need them.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO? Certainly give your tackle a check if you think you’ve noticed a symptom. And don’t delay seeking help if you then reckon that you’ve discovered a lump. But don’t become a ball-watching neurotic.
I’ve encountered this debunking several times now, but still the regular ball-checking myth persists. I take two lessons from this. The first lesson is to beware of things said by charities. It is hard for humans to draw a line between moral values and truth values, so charities can talk all manner of nonsense and nobody (especially politicians) will protest because it looks like you’re protesting against good intentions and selflessness.
The second lesson is: for any meme, the fact that it is widely accepted, even amongst ‘experts’, is evidence merely of its ability to successfully spread, not of its veracity. At this point I do not, of course, dare to bring up the topic of anthropogenic global warming.