Definition & Overview

Testicular Cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the testicles, and it can affect just one or both. According to American Cancer Society, this type of cancer is not common, as only 1 in every 263 people will have it. However, testicular cancer can affect males of any age. A vast majority of people who were diagnosed with this disease were young to middle age adults. Only 7 percent were children and teens, and another 7 percent were aged above 55.

Testicular cancer is a highly curable disease. According to a 5-year statistic, 99 percent of people diagnosed with localized cancer (cancer contained in the testicles) were cured. Ninety three percent of people whose cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodules or tissue were also cured of the disease, while 73 percent of people whose cancer had already spread to other organs survived.

One of the reasons for a high survival rate of testicular cancer is that it can be diagnosed while still in the early stages. In fact, a simple self-examination will reveal the possibility of cancer growth in the testicles. Once diagnosed, the disease is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, depending on the type of testicular cancer and the stage that it has developed.

Testicular cancer is classified as seminomas and nonseminomas. Seminomas are classic, anaplastic, or spermatocytic. Nonseminomas, on the other hand are choriocarcinoma, teratoma, embryonal or carcinoma. Seminomas and nonseminomas spread at a different rate and respond differently to treatment. For instance, nonseminomas respond faster to radiation therapy.

Cause of Condition

Although recognized as one of the most common types of cancer in men in the United States, testicular cancer is one of the least common of all types of cancer. The exact causes of this type of cancer are yet to be determined. However, researchers believe that it is due to an abnormal germ cell growth in the testicles. Germ cells are responsible for producing immature sperm. It is normal for cells to grow and divide, but abnormal cells continue to grow and divide even when they are no longer needed. The accumulation of these abnormal cells forms a mass in the affected testicle.

Even though the exact cause of testicular cancer may not be determined, a few factors contribute to its occurrence, such as undescended testicles, congenital abnormalities, family history, and history of the same disease in the other testicle.

Undescended testicles are testicles that have failed to descend from the abdomen at birth. If one or both of the testicles fail to descend into the scrotum, there is an increased risk of testicular cancer. Other than undescended testicles, abnormalities in the formation of the testicles, the penis, and the kidneys are also considered risk factors.

Age is also a risk factor since testicular cancer mostly appears in men between the ages of 15 to 35, but there have also been cases of the disease in men above and below that age range. Another risk factor is race, since the majority of testicular cancer cases involve white men.

Key Symptoms

Testicular cancer is mostly discovered during a routine physical checkup or by the patient noticing an unusual growth in the testicles. The most common symptoms are:

  • Enlargement of the testicles
  • Pain in the scrotum or testicle
  • Buildup of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or groin

If you notice any one of the above symptoms, it is best to perform a self-exam. Using the fingers, check for any abnormal growth in the testicles. While having one testicle larger than the other is perfectly normal, if there are lumps found in any of the testicles, it could be a sign of testicular cancer and you must consult your doctor as soon as possible.

If the testicles seem a little larger than usual, it could be a sign of other conditions such as varicocele (dilation of the veins in the testicle causing enlargement) or hydrocele, buildup of fluid in the testicle.

Breast growth, although rare, has also been noted as being one of the symptoms of testicular cancer. This happens when the germ cell tumors secrete high levels of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone that stimulates breast growth.

When testicular cancer is at the advanced stages, patients will display the following symptoms:

  • Headaches or confusion as the cancer cells invade the brain
  • Abdominal pain caused by the cancer spreading to the liver or by enlarged lymph nodes
  • Chest pains, frequent coughing, or difficulty in breathing as the cancer spreads into the lungs
  • Blood in the sputum
  • Pain in the lower back caused by the cancer spreading to the lymph nodes

Who to See & Types of Treatments Available

If you notice any of the early symptoms of testicular cancer or have performed a self-examination and found lumps in the testicles, it would be best to consult your primary care physician first. Your doctor will perform other tests to determine the presence of testicular cancer or if the symptoms represent another medical condition.

If testicular cancer is confirmed or if its presence is highly likely, you will be referred to an oncologist, a cancer specialist, for further diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment may involve radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. The oncologist will determine if the cancer has spread to other organs or if it’s still in its early stages and has been confined to the testicles.

Bear in mind that there is a high survival rate for this type of cancer. Chemotherapy or radiation therapies are both highly effective methods of treatment. Surgery to remove the cancer cells or the testicle can also be performed if required.

References:

  • Testicular Cancer Society. https://testicularcancersociety.org/
  • Testicular Cancer – American Cancer Society. https://cancer.org/
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