Testicular cancer is rare but it is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 45.
There are nearly 2,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK every year and if detected early, it is almost always curable.
If the cancer is not treated, some cancer cells can spread to nearby lymph glands or the lungs or other parts of the body.
There are two common types of testicular cancer: seminomas and teratomas.
Teratomas usually affect younger men. Seminomas grow very slowly and usually do not spread to other parts of the body.
Causes and Risk Factors
It is not known what causes testicular cancer but some men are more at risk than others.
Undescended testicles at birth or late descent of the testicles increase risk. A family history of a brother, father or son with testicular cancer also increases risk.
Hot baths, sporting injuries, riding a bike, and having a vasectomy do not cause testicular cancer.
Testicular cancer presents as a lump in the testicle. Regular self-examination should be done monthly after a warm bath or shower as the scrotal skin will be relaxed. It is quite common for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other or to hang slightly lower.
Each testicle can be examined by rolling it gently between the thumb and finger and should feel smooth.
At the back of each testicle is a soft, often tender tube, this is the epididymis that collects and stores sperm.
Indications that there may be an abnormality of concern include:
- A hard lump usually on the front or side of the testicle
- Any enlargement of a testicle
- Increased firmness of a testicle
- Pain or discomfort in the testicle or in the scrotum
- An unusual difference between one testicle and the other
A simple non-invasive test is an ultrasound scan of the testicles. The test is painless and takes a few minutes and gives excellent diagnostic information about whether the testicles are normal or not. Ultrasound of the testicles is a very accurate method of diagnosis for testicular cancer.
Should there be any abnormality or concern a doctor should be seen as soon as possible. It is important not to wait a week or two and hope that it will go away, testicular cancer is easier to treat successfully if it is detected early. A lump may be due to an infection or a cyst and most lumps are not cancerous, but the earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin. Surgical removal of the affected testis (orchidectomy) is the normal treatment for testicular cancer. An artificial testicle can be placed in the scrotum during the operation to give a normal appearance if desired.
Chemotherapy drugs are often given together with surgery, particularly if the cancer has spread beyond the testicles. Chemotherapy drugs may be taken by mouth or injection.
Radiotherapy may also be used, but unlike chemotherapy, radiation is focused to treat just the area of the cancer.
The outcome for testicular cancer is very good especially if caught early, underlying the necessity for regular self-examination and a visit to the doctor should anything abnormal be found.