What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is a type of cancer that develops in male reproductive organs known as testes or testicles. Two types of cancer can develop in the testicles: seminomas, which often grow slowly, and nonseminomas, a group of other tumors made up of different cell types, which may grow more quickly.
Testicular cancer usually responds well to treatment and is often curable. It tends to occur in younger men (between the ages of 15 and 34). Although it is the most common cancer in men in this age group, it is relatively uncommon overall. Around 8,000 men are diagnosed each year with testicular cancer in the United States (Source: ACS).
The testicles start development in the abdomen but descend into the scrotum before birth. Abnormalities in development, such as a lack of testicular descent, abnormalities of the kidneys, penis, or testicles, or the presence of a hernia in the groin at birth seem to increase the risk of testicular cancer. Although undescended testicles can be surgically moved to the scrotum, this does not reduce the risk of testicular cancer.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless lump on the testicle. Once diagnosed, treatment will depend on the type of cancer that is present and how much the disease has spread, but it often involves surgical removal of the testicle, possibly with removal of nearby lymph nodes, as well. Treatment may also involve radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
It is unusual for testicular cancer or its complications to create medical emergencies, but if there is any suspicion of testicular cancer, an evaluation should occur without delay. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms, such as a lump on the testicle, an enlarged or swollen testicle, testicular pain, a full sensation in your scrotum, or any other symptoms that cause you concern.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless lump on the testicle. Pain may occur but is not as common. The affected testicle may be enlarged or swollen, and there may be a sensation of fullness in the scrotum. Testicular cancer that has spread to other areas of the body may have symptoms related to the sites to which it has spread.
Common symptoms of testicular cancer
Common symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- Change in the firmness or texture of the testicle
- Fluid collection in the scrotum
- Lower back pain
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Painless lump on the testicle
- Sensation of fullness in the scrotum
- Swelling or enlargement of the testicle
- Testicular pain
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
Testicular cancer is a serious condition, and timely evaluation and treatment is important. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these serious symptoms:
- Fluid in the scrotum
- Fullness of the scrotum
- Lump on the testicle
- Swelling, enlargement, or other changes in the testicle
- Pain in the testicle
- Persistent low abdominal or back pain
What causes testicular cancer?
It is not known what causes testicular cancer, but undescended testicles and other abnormalities present at birth increase the risk of developing it. Testicular cancer is more common in men who have relatives with testicular cancer or who have had it themselves.
A number of factors increase the risk of developing testicular cancer. Not all people with risk factors will get testicular cancer. Risk factors for testicular cancer include:
How is testicular cancer treated?
Caught early, testicular cancer is often curable. Even if it has started to spread, testicular cancer may be curable with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
The goal of testicular cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in the body, although it may recur or relapse later.
Common treatments for testicular cancer
Treatment for testicular cancer depends on the type of cancer that is present and how far it has spread. Common treatments for testicular cancer include:
Chemotherapy to attack cancer cells
Participation in a clinical trial testing promising new treatments for testicular cancer
Radiation therapy to attack cancer cells
Surgery to remove the cancer
Other treatments for testicular cancer
Other therapies may help with your general state of health and any complications of the cancer or its treatment. Other therapies that may be added include:
Antinausea medications if nausea occurs
Blood transfusions to temporarily replace blood components (such as red blood cells or platelets) that have been reduced or lost
Dietary counseling to maintain strength and nutritional status
Pain medications if needed to increase comfort
Palliative care to improve the overall quality of life for patients with serious diseases and their families
Surgery to place an artificial testicle (prosthesis) in the scrotum
Some complementary treatments may help some people to better deal with testicular cancer and its treatments. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. Complementary treatments are not meant to substitute for full medical care.
Complementary treatments may include:
In cases in which testicular cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and has become unresponsive to treatment, the goal of treatment may shift away from curing the disease and focus on measures to keep a person comfortable and maximize the quality of life. Hospice care involves medically controlling pain and other symptoms while providing psychological and spiritual support as well as services to support the patient’s family.
Complications of untreated testicular cancer can be serious. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of testicular cancer include:
Spread of the cancer to nearby lymph nodes
Spread of the cancer to other areas of the body, such as the bones, brain, liver or lungs