What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is a growth of abnormal cells in a testicle. Growths of cancer cells are called tumors.
The testicles are part of the male reproductive system. They make sperm and the male hormone, testosterone. They are in the scrotum, which is the sac of loose skin below the penis.
How does it occur?
The cause of testicular cancer is not known, but there are several risk factors, such as:
- a testicle that did not move from inside the belly down into the scrotum before birth (undescended testicle) even if it was later corrected surgically
- a history of cancer in one of the testicles
- a family history of testicular cancer, especially brothers and less so with fathers or sons
- abnormal development of the testicles, penis, or kidneys.
- HIV infection.
Testicular cancer is most common in men between the ages of 15 and 35. It is unusual after the age of 40 and in African-Americans and Hispanics.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of testicular cancer are:
- a painless lump or swelling in a testicle
- pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
- a testicle that has gotten bigger or a change in the way it feels
- a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- a dull ache in the lower belly or back.
Many of these symptoms can be caused by problems other than cancer.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and examine you. You may have:
- blood tests
- an ultrasound scan of the testicles.
You may have blood tests to check for substances made by the cancer that often occur in larger amounts when you have testicular cancer. The substances are called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (beta-hCG). The amounts of these substances in the blood may give an idea of how much cancer is in your body.
How is it treated?
You will have surgery to remove the testicle through an incision (cut) in the groin. The operation is called an inguinal orchiectomy. Other treatments may include:
- chemotherapy, which uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
- radiation therapy, which is the use of high-energy rays to shrink the tumor and kill cancer cells (usually for the type of testicular cancer called seminoma).
How long will the effects last?
Most cases of testicular cancer can be cured. The earlier the cancer is found, the more likely the treatment will be successful. However, testicular cancer, like all cancers, can come back (recur) somewhere else in the body. Also, cells can break away from the tumor to form new growths in other places in the body. Men who have had cancer in one testicle have a slightly higher risk of getting cancer in the other testicle. Regular exams after treatment are important. Your healthcare provider will recommend frequent checkups that include blood tests and CT scans (computerized X-rays).
Ask your healthcare provider about your ability to have children after treatment. After some treatments you may be sterile for a while or possibly for the rest of your life. Your provider may recommend that you put some sperm in a sperm bank before you start treatment. The sperm might then be used later on if you want to have children.
How can I take care of myself?
- Check your testicles often. Report any symptoms right away to your healthcare provider.
- If you have been diagnosed with testicular cancer:
- Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Know that having the cancer adds a lot of stress to your life. Take more time for your important relationships and for rest. Spend time with people and activities you enjoy.
- Talk with your family and your healthcare providers about your concerns. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you have about the disease, treatments, side effects of the treatments, sexuality, support groups, and anything else that concerns you.
- Find a counselor to help you deal with hard issues.
- For more information on cancer, contact national and local organizations such as:
How can I help prevent testicular cancer?
Because the cause of testicular cancer is not known, healthcare providers do not know how to prevent it. Researchers are actively studying possible methods of prevention, such as diet, supplements, and drugs.
Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
HIA File canc3544.htm Release 13/2010