What Is Testicular Cancer? Understanding the Nature of Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer affects the cells inside of the testicles. A tumor of cancerous (malignant) cells can form and spread to nearby cells, eventually invading other tissues through a process called metastasis. Cancer spreads in later stages, and some cancers grow faster than others. The goal of any cancer detection is to catch symptoms early, so you can get treatment when it’s most effective.
Testicular cancer has a five-year survival rate of 99%. Even for those whose cancer has spread to nearby areas (regionalized cancer), the survival rate is about 96%.
Read on for a complete testicular cancer overview, including signs of testicular cancer, risk factors, treatment options, and prevention tips.
Recognizing Signs of Testicular Cancer: Identifying Symptoms and Warning Signs
Although testicular cancer is the leading cancer among males 15-45, many do not know about its risks. Testicular cancer accounts for roughly 1% of all cancer in men.
Testicular cancer symptoms include:
- Pain in your testicles
- Dull ache in the scrotum or stomach
- Unusually hard testicles
- Your scrotum feels heavy
- Your scrotum is swollen
In more advanced stages, testicular cancer can also cause symptoms such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Enlarged breasts
- Lower back pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- A noticeable lump in the neck
- Respiratory problems
Any time you notice changes to your testicles or health, you should speak with a doctor ASAP. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking for a testicular cancer screening. The earlier the disease is detected, the better off you are.
Exploring the Causes of Testicular Cancer: Unraveling the Underlying Factors
The exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown. As with the majority of cancer, a combination of genetics and environmental triggers can cause cells to mutate. Although researchers are not entirely sure what causes testicular cancer, some potential causes include:
- A family history of testicular cancer
- Previously having testicular cancer
- Exposure to certain types of pesticides and chemicals
- Having an undescended testicle (cryptorchidism)
- Having the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Having Down syndrome (Trisomy 21)
- Being between 21 to 34 (51% of all testicular cancer cases occur in this age group)
More than 90% of testicular cancer starts in the cells that make sperm. Treatment will depend on the type of cells your cancer has infected.
How To Detect Testicular Cancer: Methods for Self-Examination and Early Detection
A self-exam is one of the easiest ways to screen yourself for testicular cancer. Self-screening doesn’t rule out the need for a professional opinion. But it can be a good first step in deciding if you need to see a doctor.
Here is a basic rundown on how to perform a self-evaluation for testicular cancer:
- Start with a warm shower, which helps relax your testicles.
- Roll one testicle under your thumb and fingers to check for lumps, abnormalities, or pain.
- Repeat this on the other side.
Your body is unique, and you know it better than anyone else. If something changes, hurts, or just doesn’t feel right, see a doctor. They’re there to help and have open conversations. It’s more than okay to just make an appointment because you want to discuss something — you don’t have to be injured or sick to see a physician.
The Role of Medical Professionals in Diagnosis
As we mentioned earlier, a self-exam can be a good starting point to screen for testicular cancer, but it does not ever eliminate the need for a medical opinion. You cannot tell if you have cancer on your own, just like you can’t always rule it out, either.
The best thing to do is see a doctor to discuss any symptoms you have. They can perform a physical exam, bloodwork, ultrasound, and even a biopsy to test tissue from your testicle and see if it comes back positive for cancer.
FAQs and Misconceptions About Testicular Self-Exams
What Is a Testicular Self-Exam (TSE)?
A TSE is a self-test that helps a man screen for testicular abnormalities. Look for signs like lumps, swelling, pain, or any other changes that seem off to you.
How Often Should I Check My Testicles?
A monthly TSE is a good way to monitor your body. Monthly exams can help familiarize you with your body, so it becomes easier to detect changes.
What Age Should I Start TSEs?
Self-exams for testicular cancer and other testicular problems should start after puberty, around age 15 in most males.
What To Look For During a TSE?
Swelling, lumps, pain, and changes in size or shape of the testicles can indicate a problem and should be discussed as soon as possible with a doctor.
Misconception: TSEs Aren’t Necessary
Truth: A TSE can help someone detect changes to their testicles before they cause serious impairment; this can lead to the early detection and diagnosis of testicular cancer, which improves a person’s chance of survival and minimizes pain and suffering.
Misconception: TSEs Are Complicated
Truth: A TSE is simple, and all it takes is a few minutes to examine your testicles. By performing TSEs on a monthly basis, you can get more comfortable with your body and identify warning signs of testicular cancer.
Misconception: Testicular Cancer Only Affects Older Men.
Truth: Testicular cancer is most common among males under 34. Self-exams can help detect it early and cure it before it spreads.
Misconception: A Lump in Your Testciles Is Always Cancer.
Truth: Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous), and some lumps may develop without leading to cancer. However, any change you notice should be brought up with a doctor.
Treatment Options for Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer treatment ranges from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation. The right choice for you will depend on the severity of your cancer, and where it is located. If it has spread, then a more advanced form of treatment will be necessary to ensure that the cancer is completely killed.
Common treatments for testicular cancer include:
- Orchiectomy: This process removes one or both testicles; this outpatient procedure has a short recovery time. It can be used to either prevent cancer cells from spreading or be a first-line of treatment for patients with the disease.
- Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND): Because testicular cancer can spread through the abdomen, this procedure can remove lymph nodes that would allow the cancer to spread more easily.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be used before or after testicular cancer surgery, and it may be recommended if the disease has started to spread.
Radiation uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is most commonly used to treat seminomas, a type of testicular cancer that affects the germ cells and, less frequently, a space in the mid-chest (mediastinum), a space behind the abdominal cavity (retroperitoneum), or other extra-gonadal sites. Seminoma is one of the most treatable forms of cancer with a survival rate of up to 95% when diagnosed early.
Stem Cell Transplant
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can perform many roles in the body, and they can be an effective cancer treatment by helping your body produce new red blood cells after chemotherapy.
Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT)
If you have a remaining healthy testicle, you likely won’t notice any major changes to your body. However, having both testicles affected by cancer — even after treatment — can lead to physical and sexual health issues.
TRT aims to restore the balance of testosterone in your body, which can help address signs of low testosterone, such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight gain
- Lower sex drive
- Reduced beard growth
- Difficulty getting or maintaining erections (erectile dysfunction)
Men who have a full orchiectomy will need TRT to continually supply their bodies with the testosterone it needs to function properly.
What Is the Best Treatment for Testicular Cancer?
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the most common types of treatment. Each treatment plan is personalized based on an individual’s health and the severity of their cancer. Personalized treatments are crucial to effectively killing cancer and preventing serious long-term health effects.
Working with a cancer specialist (oncologist) and men’s health doctor is the best way to ensure you get the right treatment.
Understanding the Prognosis of Testicular Cancer: Evaluating the Outlook and Survival Rates for Testicular Cancer
Even if a cancer is treatable and curable, no one wants to find out they have it. And even if you know the survival rate is high for testicular cancer, you’re still understandably going to be anxious and afraid. Despite the challenges, knowing that testicular cancer is highly treatable and has a high survival rate can provide some comfort.
The American Cancer Society reports an average 5-year survival rate of 95%. Patients who receive early diagnosis and treatment are more likely to have positive outcomes. Those whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body may have lower survival rates — but you should always pursue treatment and work with specialists who can help improve your outlook.
Factors Influencing Testicular Cancer Survival Rates
Each patient’s prognosis is based on several factors, such as:
- The severity of their cancer
- The type of cancer they have
- Whether the cancer has spread and how much it has affected other parts of the body
- The types of treatment you receive
- How your body responds to treatment
- Underlying health factors that may impact treatment
As always, early detection is key to a more positive outcome. By performing TSEs, you can increase your chances of finding testicular cancer early and getting the most effective therapies for your body. Even men with more advanced stages of cancer can qualify for treatment. The key is never delaying professional care when you notice symptoms.
Disclaimer: All of the information presented by Phoenix is researched and drawn from authoritative sources, however, none of this information is a substitute for professional medical advice.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.