Football's hottest star reveals his cancer scare to break taboo

He is one of the rising stars of English football, his skills on the field promising to bring him the fame and fortune which has rewarded many contemporaries.

But, at the beginning of this year, football was the last thing on the mind of 20-year-old Arjen Robben, Chelsea's new striker. Few observers of the Dutchman could have suspected that Robben was enduring inner turmoil after doctors told him he may have testicular cancer and might need surgery.

To the outside world, Robben was continuing his ascent on the field. But yesterday, after receiving the all-clear from specialists, Robben was trying to break the taboo surrounding testicular cancer. Its incidence has doubled in the UK over the past 20 years: 1,500 cases are now diagnosed each year.

The pressure of not knowing whether he would need to face surgery was added to when he suffered an ankle injury. He was rested in Chelsea's Champions' League game against FC Porto on Tuesday.

Following the game in Portugal, Robben brought his year of torment to an end, speaking for the first time yesterday of how "football was no longer important" as he had waited for news of the tests. He stressed that he now wanted to use his public profile to highlight the disease. "I was very scared - it was a very difficult time," he said. "I found a little lump and went to the doctor. He told me I needed an operation. I then had to wait for the results and I didn't know if it was going to be good or bad news.

"The waiting was terrible. I didn't know what was going to happen. It was a horrible wait. Then I heard the news was good and it was a massive relief.

"At that time football was no longer important - the most important thing is to be healthy and for your family to be healthy. Football is my life but my family's health is the most important thing in the world."

The footballer said men should not be afraid to talk about the disease, which mainly affects men between 19 and 44. The doubling of cases of the cancer is baffling scientists, who can find no explanation for the rise. But it is one of the most curable cancers, if caught early. The number of men dying from the disease in the UK has fallen following an awareness drive.

Robben is not the first footballer to experience the disease. In 2001, the Millwall striker Neil Harris, then 23, was diagnosed, and in the same year, the Everton defender, Alan Stubbs, then 29, was told by doctors he had the disease and managed to beat it twice before he hit 30.

They launched "Keep Your Eye on the Ball", an initiative between cancer charities and the Football Association to encourage men to carry out regular checks.

"Football players have a great life but we are only human," Robben said. "This kind of thing can happen to anyone. When it happens to a footballer, it gets publicised and to the individual, football means nothing in comparison.

"It's good to talk about it and put it out in the public domain. Why would you be embarrassed about it? It can happen at any time and can lead to terrible consequences. Now I'm completely healthy I'm very comfortable talking about it."

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