Testicular cancer starts as an abnormal growth or tumor that develops in one or both testicles. The testicles are part of the male reproductive system and are responsible for the production of male hormones (mostly testosterone) and sperm.
Testicular cancer commonly presents as a small hard lump, with swelling or a change in the consistency of the testicle. Some men also experience a dull ache in the testicle or lower abdomen. In the majority of cases, only one testicle is affected. Men, regardless of age, who find such an abnormality, should go to the doctor immediately.
Testicular cancer is highly treatable, and often curable. While the current treatment of the disease is highly successful, there’s a need to do more to improve the quality of men’s lives post treatment. Some treatments can have effects such as increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, altered sexual function and a reduced quality of life. Due to the success in treating this disease and relatively fewer cases experienced compared to other cancers, testicular cancer is often the “forgotten cancer.” In addition to improving the quality of life for survivors, more work needs to be done to resolve the significant challenges associated with second-line treatment, when initial therapy is unsuccessful.
Cancers of the testicle are named after the type of cell in which they develop. Testicular cancer can be grouped into three types of tumors:
More than 90% of testicular cancers develop in germ cells, which are responsible for the production of sperm. There are two main types of germ cell tumors; seminomas and non-seminomas. Testicular cancer can include a mix of seminoma and non-seminoma cells or a combination of the different types of non-seminoma. A small number of testicular cancers start in cells that make up the supportive (structural) and hormone producing tissue of the testicles and are known as stromal tumors.
Secondary testicular tumors are caused by cancerous cells that have spread to the testicles from other parts of the body (metastasis). These cancers are much more rare than the aforementioned forms of testicular cancer.
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Young men between the age of 18 and 40 years are at the highest risk of developing testicular cancer. The causes of testicular cancer are unknown, however there possible factors that may increase a man’s risk including:
There is no known link between testicular cancer and injury to the testicles, sporting strains, hot baths or wearing tight clothes.
Men may experience few or no symptoms of testicular cancer, however important warning signs to watch for include:
Regular self-examination of the testicles is important for young men, particularly those at risk of testicular cancer. Being familiar with the size, shape and usual level of lumpiness can help you determine if something is not quite right. A testicular self-examination can help a man find any changes in the testes early, so that if treatment is needed it can start as early as possible.
A step-by-step guide for conducting a testicular self-examination can be found here
Testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer, and can be effectively treated, and potentially cured, if diagnosed and treated early. Advanced testicular cancer can also be cured with treatment. If diagnosed, the most important step is to talk your doctor about treatment choices. In choosing a treatment plan, factors such as your overall health and the type and stage of the cancer should be considered. You may consider getting a second or third doctor’s opinion.
In most men with testicular cancer, treatment involves the surgical removal of the affected testicle. This may be followed with surveillance, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Testicular cancer and the removal of one testicle should not alter sexual function or fertility. The effect on fertility following removal of one of the testicles is minimal as a single testicle produces such large numbers of sperm.
For those men who require further treatment, fertility is likely to be affected, at least temporarily. In general, the higher the dose and the longer the treatment, the greater the chance for reproductive problems. For more information on your risk and treatment options for infertility related to cancer, visit LIVESTRONG Fertility.
Click here for more about Movember’s funded programs on testicular cancer.
For help coping with the impact of a testicular cancer diagnosis on your life or the life of a loved one, please contact the following organizations that can provide additional information and support.
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