Pete was told he had groin strain – eight months later, he was dead: He had testicular cancer at aged 28
01:14 GMT, 3 July 2012
When Pete Banks noticed a small lump in his testicle, he wasn’t particularly worried.
The 28-year-old engineer from Leamington Spa was in excellent health and, indeed, his GP suggested it was just an infection or a pulled muscle.
But within weeks Pete started having back pain.
Blood tests revealed he had testicular cancer, which had spread to his lower abdomen and lungs.
'Because Pete (Banks) was so young, cancer was simply not something he would even have considered, especially as he was never ill,' said Anna Haywood
He died eight months later.
Every year, 2,000 men in Britain are told they have testicular cancer. It’s the most common form of cancer in men aged between 15 and 44.
But even though testicular cancer is highly treatable, 70 men die from it each year.
As Pete’s girlfriend Anna Haywood explains: ‘Testicular cancer is 97 per cent curable — but only if it’s caught early.
‘Because Pete was so young, cancer was simply not something he would even have considered, especially as he was never ill.
'But if he had checked himself regularly, I have no doubt he’d be alive today.’
The incidence of the disease is rising.
According to the cancer charity Everyman, the rate has more than doubled over the past three decades.
A particular high risk factor is undescended testes at birth, says Dr Robert Huddart, honorary consultant in urological oncology at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London.
‘This condition may increase the risk of testicular cancer by five to ten times.
'Around one in 20 male babies are born with an undescended testis.’
It’s not known for sure why testicular cancer is on the rise, but there’s some evidence to suggest undescended testes are linked to exposure to chemicals in the womb.
It’s thought high levels of compounds in plastics and pesticides can disrupt the balance of male hormones.
One study published in the International Journal of Andrology in 2009 found Danish men were four times more likely to have testicular cancer than those in neighbouring Finland.
Anna and Pete had been together for five years, and had talked about getting married and starting a family
The researchers had also found significantly higher levels of chemicals from pesticides in samples of breast milk from Danish women compared to Finnish women.
‘Because of how hormone-changing chemicals, including some pesticides, cause reactions in people, there should be concern over the rise in testicular cancer. It merits serious investigation,’ says Andrew Watterson, professor of environmental health at Stirling University.
Another known risk factor is family history. ‘If a brother has testicular cancer, you are up to ten times more likely to get it,’ says Dr Huddart.
Until the cause is identified, Dr Huddart says that the best way to improve results is earlier detection.
‘Regular self-examination will help you become more aware of the normal feel and size of your testicles so any abnormalities can be spotted early on,’ he says.
The abnormalities to look for are a lump in either testicle, which is often painless, or any enlargement of the testicle.
Other signs might be a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum; a dull ache in the abdomen or groin; or growth or tenderness of the chest area, caused by the cancer cells spreading into the lymph glands there.
It was two weeks before Christmas 2007 when Pete told Anna he’d noticed a lump on his right testicle.
‘He said it didn’t hurt and was only small,’ says Anna, 31, who was then a medical technical officer and is now studying for a master’s degree in geo-environmental engineering.
‘I thought at worst it might be an infection that could be treated easily.
'Pete was healthy, exercised regularly and he had never smoked.’
Three days later, Pete went to his GP, who prescribed a course of antibiotics.
‘But, in the new year, Pete didn’t have as much energy,’ says Anna.
‘He also had lower back pain. I did not connect the lump and his back pain — and if he did, he never mentioned it.
‘He was signed off from work and started taking painkillers.
'But within a couple of weeks the lump on his testicle grew astonishingly quickly — it was fist-size and felt tender.’
Pete went back to his doctor, who sent him for a blood test three days later.
Anna went with him, as by then they thought it could be something serious.
Just from looking at the lump, the urologist told them that Pete had testicular cancer.
After blood tests and an X-ray, there was even worse news.
‘The doctor said the cancer had spread to his lower abdomen and possibly his lungs,’ says Anna.
‘We just had a feeling of disbelief. Everything was happening so quickly.
'We just said: “OK, let’s get the treatment started. Let’s get this fixed.”
‘We went home in a daze and got his stuff ready to go into hospital the next day.
‘Even then I was certain he’d pull through. Pete was the sort of person who would set his mind to achieve something and would always succeed.’
If testicular cancer is caught early and the cancer has not spread, treatment is usually to remove the cancerous testicle.
‘If the cancer has spread, this will usually be followed by chemotherapy — it is extremely likely that fertility and sex life will recover after the end of this,’ says Dr Huddart.
The cancer was so advanced that Pete was given chemotherapy before the five-hour operation to remove his testicle and lymph nodes.
But despite this, the cancer continued to spread and Pete was transferred from Coventry to Barts Hospital in London to begin a more intensive course of chemotherapy.
‘Pete was really sick. As a side-effect of the chemo, he developed terribly painful mouth ulcers and couldn’t keep any food down.
'It was really hard to see him like that,’ says Anna.
The couple, who had been together for five years, had talked about getting married and starting a family.
‘His parents, brother and sister were going through all the emotions you could imagine, like I was. But we tried our best to be strong for him.’
Then Pete developed a stomach infection.
‘He was so weak from his treatment — he basically had no immune system and just couldn’t fight the infection,’ says Anna.
He died on September 16, 2008.
‘Everyone was devastated,’ says Anna.
‘Pete was the smartest person I’ve met. He was a really great person.’
At his funeral, instead of flowers, donations were made to male cancer charity Orchid.
Following his death, Anna carried out the vow she and Pete had made to raise funds and awareness for testicular cancer.
Almost immediately, she started organising sponsored walks and cycle rides.
‘Pete was more health aware than most men, yet he never checked himself for lumps,’ she says.
‘I do think his GP could have been more aware, too. He should have been alarmed, yet he didn’t even send him for a blood test.
‘My message to men is: check yourself every couple of weeks. And women should be encouraging them, too.
‘If there’s anything even remotely different, see a doctor immediately. Life’s too precious to ignore it.’
For more information, go to checkemlads.com;
everyman-campaign.org; and orchid-cancer.org.uk