Testicular cancer, although rare compared to some other cancers, still affects between 8,000 and 10,000 men each year in the USA alone. It’s a disease that tends to affect caucasian males in their late 20s and early 30s more than other demographics, although it can occur at any age.
The good news is that testicular cancer is very treatable and has a very high survival rate. According to John Hopkins Medicine, recovery occurs in 95% of patients. As with any cancer, however, early detection and treatment has a significant affect on the outcome.
Here we look at the disease and how to carry out a testicular cancer self-exam.
WHAT IS TESTICULAR CANCER?
Testicular cancer accounts for just 1% of the cancers that occur in men. Regular self-examinations can help detect any problem early and greatly improve the prognosis.
There are several types of testicular cancer which are defined by the cells that are affected. They all respond well to different treatments, with high recovery rates. Cancer normally only affects one testicle.
Germ cell testicular cancer is by far the most common, accounting for some 95% of cases. Here, the germ cells (either seminomas or non-seminomas) that make sperm in the testes mutate and become cancerous.
Far rarer, are Leydig cell cancer and Sertoli cell cancer. Leydig cell tumours are benign and do not progress beyond the testicle. Sertoli cell tumours are also benign but can spread beyond the testicle and don’t respond well to chemotherapy if they do.
SIGNS, SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES OF TESTICULAR CANCER
There are several symptoms associated with testicular cancer, but these symptoms don’t always necessarily mean that cancer is present. It is important to get checked out, however, if any of the following signs are noticed:
- A lump on the testicle or it seems to be enlarged
- Scrotum feels heavier than usual
- Pain in the scrotal area or around the groin and abdomen
- Back pain
The cause of cancer in the testicles is not well-understood but it is thought that the disease may be associated with certain risk factors.
If someone has had an undescended testicle, for example, they may be more likely to develop cancer. The testis is formed in the abdomen while developing in the womb and only descend just before birth. In a very few males, the testis remains undescended after birth.
If there is abnormal testicle development, as in Klinefellar Syndrome, the risk of testicular cancer is increased.
Other factors could include family history, the age of the person (usually but not exclusively between 15 and 35) and race – testicular cancer is more prevalent in white male populations.
Some studies have also indicated that body size may make a difference and that taller males are more at risk. There is no evidence that prior injury or trauma increases the risk of developing testicular cancer.
Treatment depends on the what stage the cancer is at when diagnosed and the type of cells affected. Approaches include surgery to remove the testicle, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
HOW TO CHECK FOR TESTICULAR CANCER
As with any cancer, early diagnosis greatly improves the chances of recovery. It’s important to not ignore something like a lump on the testicle and get medical advice straight away. It’s very easy to carry out a testicular cancer self-exam and this should be performed regularly.
- Hold each testicle in turn between thumb and finger with both hands and gently roll it between your fingers.
- Check for any lumps, change in size or nodules (smooth, rounded masses).
- Each testicle is connected to a coiled tube, the epididymis, which generally feels like a small bump. This is nothing to be worried about.
- It is normal for one testicle to be slightly bigger than the other so this shouldn’t be a concern.
Regularly examining the testicles means that you will notice changes over time if they occur. It takes just a few seconds and will ensure that any problems are spotted early. It’s important not to worry, however. Changes can be due to other things such as fluid collecting around the testicle or enlarged veins.
WHAT IF A LUMP IS FOUND?
The majority of lumps found on the testicles are not caused by cancer and are benign. Once a change is discovered, however, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately.
A testicular cancer self-exam is a simple way to ensure any problem is spotted early. This is an extremely treatable form of cancer with high survivor rates as long as the diagnosis is made in time.