Testicular cancer is a rare but serious disease that affects the male reproductive organs. It can happen at any age, but it is most common in men between 15 and 45 years old. It is highly treatable, even when it spreads to other parts of the body, but early detection is key.
The testicles are two oval-shaped glands that hang in a loose sac of skin called the scrotum. They produce sperm and the male hormone testosterone. Testicular cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow and multiply in the testicles, forming a lump or tumor. Sometimes, the cancer cells can break away and spread to other organs, such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs.
The cause of testicular cancer is unknown, but some factors may increase the risk of developing it. These include having undescended testes (when one or both testicles do not move down into the scrotum before birth), having a family history of testicular cancer, having had testicular cancer before, or having a congenital abnormality of the testes.
The first sign of testicular cancer is usually a lump or swelling in either testicle. It may or may not be painful. Other symptoms may include a feeling of heaviness or aching in the scrotum or abdomen, sudden fluid collection in the scrotum, enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue, or back pain.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will examine your testicles and may order some tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include an ultrasound (a scan that uses sound waves to create images of the scrotum and testicles), blood tests (to check for substances called tumor markers that are produced by some types of testicular cancer), surgery (to remove the affected testicle and examine it under a microscope), and biopsy (to take a small sample of tissue from the tumor for further analysis).
Testicular cancer can be classified into two main types: seminoma and nonseminoma. Seminomas tend to grow and spread more slowly than nonseminomas. Nonseminomas are more aggressive and can have several subtypes, such as choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma, teratoma and yolk sac tumor.
The treatment for testicular cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as your overall health and preferences. The main treatments are surgery (to remove the affected testicle and sometimes nearby lymph nodes), chemotherapy (to kill cancer cells with drugs), and radiation therapy (to destroy cancer cells with high-energy rays). Sometimes, a combination of these treatments may be used.
Testicular cancer or its treatment can affect your fertility (your ability to father children). If you want to have children in the future, you should talk to your doctor about preserving your sperm before starting treatment. You can store your sperm in a sperm bank for later use.
One of the best ways to prevent testicular cancer is to do regular self-exams. This means checking your testicles once a month for any changes in size, shape, feel or appearance. You can do this in the shower or bath when your scrotum is relaxed. You should hold your penis out of the way and examine each testicle with both hands. You should feel for any lumps, swelling or other abnormalities. If you find anything unusual, you should contact your doctor right away.
As one expert said: “Unlike prostate cancer, which grows slowly, testicular cancer can take off overnight.” Therefore, it is important to be aware of your body and seek medical attention if you notice anything wrong. Testicular cancer is highly curable if caught early, so don’t delay getting checked out.
Remember: “With skin cancer, you don’t want to wait.” The same applies to testicular cancer.