Testicular cancer: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Male sex hormones and sperm are produced in the testicles. Testicular cancer, or cancer of the testes, occurs in these organs.

Testosterone controls the development of the reproductive organs and other male physical characteristics.

Although testicular cancer is uncommon compared with other cancers (0.7 percent of all cancers), it is the most common cancer in males aged between 15 and 35 years in North America and Europe. Every year, 8,000 males in the United States are diagnosed with testicular cancer, and 390 men die each year in the from the disease.

Fast facts on testicular cancer

Testicular cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in young men.

Common diagnoses include examination, blood tests, and ultrasounds.

Treatment is successful in 95 percent of men with testicular cancer.

Symptoms

Diagram of testicles with testicular cancer

Symptoms of testicular cancer do not normally appear until a later stage.

In most cases, the individual finds the cancer himself. Sometimes, it is discovered by doctors during a routine physical exam.

Anyone who notices anything unusual about their testicles should see a doctor, especially if they detect any of the following:

a painless lump or swelling in a testicle

pain in a testicle or scrotum

discomfort in a testicle or scrotum

a sensation of heaviness in the scrotum

a dull ache in the lower back, groin, or abdomen

a sudden accumulation of fluid in the scrotum

unexplained tiredness or malaise.

It is worth noting that these symptoms may not necessarily be caused by cancer. In fact, less than 4 percent of lumps in the testicles are found to be cancerous. Individuals should not ignore a lump or swelling in the testicle, though. It is important to see a doctor. They can then determine the cause.

Even though testicular cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, it hardly ever travels to other organs. If the cancer does spread, a person may experience:

coughing

breathing difficulties

swallowing difficulties

swelling in the chest

Early signs

It is important to catch testicular cancer early to improve the chances for successful treatment.

The earliest signs that occur are a painless lump and swelling. The testicle may also seem to be larger than usual.

However, this type of cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms until a later stage. That is why self-examination is so important – it is often the only way to catch testicular cancer at an early stage.

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Causes

Although scientists are not sure what the specific causes of testicular cancer are, there are some factors which may raise a man’s risk of developing the disease. These risk factors include:

Cryptorchidism (undescended testicle): If a testicle has not moved down when a male is born, there is a greater risk that he will develop testicular cancer later on.

Congenital abnormalities: Males born with abnormalities of the penis, kidneys, or testicles.

Inguinal hernia: Males born with a hernia in the groin.

Having had testicular cancer: If a male has had testicular cancer, he is more likely to develop it in the other testicle, compared with a man who has never had testicular cancer.

Family history: A male who has a close relative with testicular cancer is more likely to develop it himself compared with other men.

Abnormal testicular development: Conditions, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, where the testicles do not develop normally, may increase a person’s risk of testicular cancer.

Mumps orchitis: This is an uncommon complication of mumps in which one or both testicles become inflamed.

Ancestry: Testicular cancer is more common among Caucasian males, compared with men of African or Asian descent. The highest rates are found in Scandinavia, Germany, and New Zealand.

Having a vasectomy does not increase a man’s risk of developing testicular cancer.

Treatment

Around 95 percent of all men with testicular cancer make a full recovery after receiving treatment. The sooner a patient is diagnosed and treated, the better his prognosis is.

Treatment for testicular cancer may involve surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination.

Surgery

Orchiectomy

Orchiectomy is usually the first line of treatment. The testicle is surgically removed to prevent the tumor from spreading. If the patient is diagnosed and treated in stage 1, surgery may be the only treatment needed.

An orchiectomy is a straightforward operation. The patient receives a general anesthetic. A small incision is made in the groin, and the testicle is removed through the incision. The patient remains in hospital for a few days.

If the man still has one testicle after the operation, his sex life and chances of reproducing should not be affected.

Fertility

If after the operation, the patient has no testicles, he will be infertile. He will not be able to produce sperm.

Males who wish to have children one day should consider banking their sperm before the operation – some sperm is kept in a sperm-bank before the testicle or testicles are removed.

Other testicular cancer therapies, including radiotherapy and chemotherapy, can also affect a cancer patient’s long-term fertility.

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