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A Case of Itchy Balls Could Be as Serious as Cancer

The good, the bad and the ugly things we learned about our bodies today

Talk to a guy, any guy, and they’ll tell you: At some point in their lives (probably right now!) they’ve had balls that itched. When your precious family jewels are locked between a hot and a sweaty place, it’s inevitable that you’re going to get some jungle rot down there.

This is what men refer to as a “mild inconvenience.” Just another cobblestone in the uneven road of life, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Unfortunately, it seems, that may no longer be true.

A piece in the Washington Post on Saturday tells the story of a guy for whom “jock itch” turned into something very real, and very scary. Stephen Schroeder had what he thought was just your run-of-the-mill itchy balls. Only, it lasted for several months, and came with, at first, a small, purplish pimple on his scrotum, then a scaly, red rash.

After finally consulting with his doctor — and getting the worst kind of “are you sitting down?” phone call while he was boarding a plane — Schroeder learned what that itch in his pants actually was: An invasive cancer called extramammary Paget’s disease, or EMPD. EMPD is deadly: According to one study, it has a mortality rate between 18 and 46 percent. Making things worse, EMPD is both extremely hard to diagnose, thanks to looking more like eczema than cancer, and likely to recur.

The good news is that EMPD is extremely rare. As the Post notes, only a few hundred cases worldwide have ever been reported (and that includes cases among women, where the diagnosis is relatively less rare).

After difficult and painful surgeries to remove the cancer and a recurrence in 2016, Schroeder went public with his diagnosis in an effort to warn other men that minor maladies can actually be quite serious, and to get themselves checked out.

After all, you never know when a case of itchy balls can turn into something far more sinister.

A few other things we learned about our bodies today:

Jeff Gross is a content strategist and writer for MEL. He last wrote about how terrifyingly bad energy drinks are for your physical and mental health.

More stuff we’ve learned about our bodies: