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Taking part in a clinical trial

Four years ago, when he was 28, Ashley Tapp was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Following an operation to remove one testicle, doctors asked Ashley to take part in a clinical trial. The trial was looking at a way to reduce the side effects of one particular chemotherapy drug. This is Ashley’s story.

A shock diagnosis

I had just come back from New York and started a new job in London. My right testicle felt swollen and not quite right. I waited a few days and then went to see my doctor. I had a few tests but it actually took several weeks and a number of trips to the doctor before I found out what was wrong.

I had an ultrasound scan and a blood test and was told that I had a teratoma - a type of testicular cancer. When the doctor told me that I had cancer and would have to have a testicle removed, I got the impression that he thought because I had two, it didn’t really matter. But I was devastated at being told that I had cancer and was going to lose a testicle. I felt that I had nobody to talk to and just burst into tears.

Treatment concerns

Having an operation to remove my testicle was only the first part of my treatment. I was told that the cancer had spread into my lymphatic system. So when I had recovered from surgery, I had to go back into hospital to have chemotherapy. One of the drugs that is used to treat testicular cancer is called bleomycin. Like all drugs, bleomycin has side effects, one of which is the possibility of lung damage. This only affects a small number of patients, but it was something that concerned me because I am very sporty and love swimming and running.

It was at this time that I was asked to take part in a clinical trial. Although a combination of drugs including bleomycin is very effective at treating testicular cancer, researchers want to find out if giving the drug over a longer period of time than normal works just as well, but causes less damage to the lungs.

Agreeing to take part in a clinical trial

I agreed to take part and initially didn’t know which treatment I was going to have. Half the men taking part would have the standard treatment (the control group) and half would have the bleomycin at a slower rate. Which group you go in to is chosen at random, but I felt lucky to be picked to have the slower rate of bleomycin.

I had three cycles of treatment over two months. With each course of treatment, I spent one week in hospital and then two weeks recovering at home. I experienced a lot of nausea and sickness and I felt very low, especially when I began to lose my hair. Towards the end of my treatment, I felt physically quite weak.

Getting back to normal

At first, I don’t think I appreciated just how ill I had been and I didn’t realise how long it would take my immune system to recover. I probably went back to work a bit too quickly. I caught an infection and developed pneumonia. I became very unwell and it took a while to get better. But three years on I feel as fit as a fiddle.

I am tremendously grateful to everyone who supported me and looked after me. Being part of a clinical trial means that I have been very closely monitored. I still go for check ups every six months and feel reassured that I am being followed up so closely. Clinical trials can take a very long time and the trial I took part in is still recruiting people now. It will be interesting to find out the results of the trial in the future.

I’m glad that I agreed to take part in the trial. It was horrendous going through chemotherapy, but knowing that other people may benefit from what I was doing was consoling.

Enjoying life

Everyone’s experience of cancer is different, but for me, the experience made me determined to do the things I love with the people I love. Although I am young and as fit as I was before treatment, you never know when your health may be taken away and I don’t want to be someone who looks back with regrets later in life.

I am now club secretary of my swim team and this year I completed the London Marathon. I really enjoyed it and it was lovely to see my family and friends there on the day. I raised £4,000 for Cancer Research UK. My hope is that the research the organisation supports will ensure that others in the future are as lucky as me.

Factfile

  • About 1,900 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year in the UK
  • Testicular cancer is not that common, but it is the most common cancer in young men between 15 and 44 years old
  • Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are all used to treat testicular cancer
  • Treatment for testicular cancer is very effective and the majority of men are cured

More information

Our testicular cancer leaflet includes information about how a simple self-check can help to spot early signs of the disease. And these links will take you to CancerHelp UK’s information about

Earlier this year, Ashley talked to us about taking part in the clinical trial and his training for the London Marathon. You can listen to Ashley in April’s Cancer Research UK podcast.

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Updated: 28 September 2009