Testicular cancer occurs when abnormal cells in one or both of the testes begins to grow uncontrollably. It is the most common type of cancer for younger men between the ages of 15 and 40, with the average age at diagnosis just 33.
Risk factors for developing testicular cancer include having an undescended testicle, having abnormal development of the testicles, a personal history of testicular cancer, family history of testicular cancer (especially in a father or brother), and being white. Fortunately, it is one of the most curable types of cancers when caught early.
What are signs and symptoms of testicular cancer?
Signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum, a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin, a painless lump or swelling in either testicle, sudden build-up of swelling in the scrotum, and back pain.
How do you diagnose testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is usually diagnosed with a testicular exam, a blood test for tumor markers, and an ultrasound (which is quick and painless). Regular self-exams are also an important step in catching testicular cancer early.
Once diagnosed, a urologist will order a CT scan to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the testicle in a process known as staging. Stage I means that the scan does not show any evidence of cancer beyond the testicle; stage II means that the scan has identified cancer that has spread beyond the testicle to the lymph nodes in the abdomen; and stage III means that the cancer has spread beyond the cancer and abdominal lymph nodes to additional areas of the body.
How do you treat testicular cancer?
The treatment approach to testicular cancer depends on the type – seminomas or non-seminomas – and whether or not the cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Surgery to remove the testicle, called inguinal orchiectomy, is the most common treatment for testicular cancer. Surgery cures most patients, but some patients may undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment to kill any remaining cancer cells after the operation.
Although men can maintain fertility with one testicle, chemotherapy and radiation may temporarily or permanently reduce sperm count. In this case, patients interested in biologically having a child can consider sperm banks to store their sperm. Furthermore, the removal of a testicle does not affect the ability to have an erection. In fact, the vast majority of men with testicular cancer have it in only on testicle, so after surgery the remaining testicle produces all of the needed hormones that affect masculinity including hair growth, voice, and sex drive.