Testicular cancer is abnormal cell growth in the testicles (or testes), a part of the male reproductive system. The testicles reside in a sack of skin called the scrotum located beneath the base of the penis. They are responsible for making male hormones, like testosterone, and they also create sperm. Several kinds of cells are found in the testicles and each may develop particular types of cancers. Testicular cancer most commonly affects males between the ages of 15 and 35; it is a highly treatable and usually curable type of cancer1.
Credit: American Cancer Society
What are different types of testicular cancer?
There are several types of testicular cancer that affect the different cells of the testicles. Read more about the types of testicular cancer.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
Some symptoms of testicular cancer may include:
- A lump or enlargement in the scrotum
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- A dull ache in the abdomen or groin
- A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- Pain or discomfort in the testicle or the scrotum
- Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing not due to a cold
- Pain in the chest
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
Physical exams consist of a health care provider feeling for testicular swelling or tenderness and determining the size and location of the testicular tumor. During a physical exam, nearby lymph nodes, abdomen and other parts of your body will be checked to ensure the cancer has not spread beyond the testicles.
Blood tests are used to determine the level of tumor markers in the blood. Blood tests help doctors determine the best treatment(s) for a particular case of testicular cancer.
Imaging tests use x-rays, magnets, sound waves, or radioactive chemicals to produce pictures of the inside of the body. For testicular cancer, these tests may include chest x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, and bone scans, all of which are particularly good at detecting if bladder cancer has spread to other body locations.
Ultrasounds uses sound waves to generate a digital image of the testicles. An ultrasound allows a health care provider to assess the location, size and composition of any testicular lumps. Based on an assessment of these criteria, a health care provider is better able to make a diagnosis of a type of testicular cancer.
What are the different stages of testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is staged using the TNM system created by the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC).
The TNM system for testicular cancer is based on 4 key pieces of information:
- T refers to how much the main (primary) tumor has spread to tissues next to the testicle.
- N describes how much the cancer has spread to regional (nearby) lymph nodes.
- M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread to distant lymph nodes or other organs of the body).
- S indicates the serum (blood) levels of tumor markers that are made by some testicular cancers.
What are the treatment options for testicular cancer?
This testicular cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments used for this type of cancer.
Surgery is the removal of all or most of a cancerous testicle tumor. During this procedure all or most of the cancerous testicle will be removed, and, if the cancer has spread, the lymph nodes near the testicles will also be removed.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation to kill cancer cells found in the testes. External radiation therapy is an effective form of treatment for seminoma types of testicular cancer.
Chemotherapy is drug treatment that kills testicular cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs are typically injected into the veins and these drugs will travel throughout the body to killing any quickly growing cells. This treatment is often used to treat testicular cancer when it has spread outside the testicles. Chemotherapy is also effective at decreasing the risk of cancer coming back after the removal of a testicle.
What are the major risk factors of testicular cancer?
- Cryptorchidism: A condition where one or both of the testicles do not descend at birth.
- Medical history: A family or personal history of testicular cancer is correlated with higher rates of testicular cancer.
- Age: Men between 20-34 are at a higher risk of developing testicular cancer.
- Ancestry: Men with European ancestry have higher rates of testicular cancer.
- Height: Testicular cancer occurs more frequently in taller men.
How is testicular cancer prevented?
There are no proven testicular cancer prevention methods. Some healthcare professionals recommend regular testicular self-examinations to identify testicular cancer at its earliest stages.