Testicular Cancer: Overview
What is testicular cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.
Cancer that starts in a testicle is called testicular cancer. It is one of the most curable forms of cancer. The testicles are the male sex glands and are part of the male reproductive system. Testicles are also called testes or gonads. They are located behind the penis in a pouch of skin (scrotum). The testicles make sperm. Sperm are the male cells needed to fertilize a female egg cell. The testicles also make several male hormones, including testosterone. These hormones control the development of the reproductive organs. They also control other features such as body and facial hair and a lower voice.
Who is at risk for testicular cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for testicular cancer include:
- Being aged in your 20s or 30s
- Being white
- Cancer in the other testicle
- Undescended testicle
- Family history of testicular cancer have a higher risk
- HIV infection
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for testicular cancer and what you can do about them.
Can testicular cancer be prevented?
Researchers don’t yet know how to prevent this type of cancer.
Are there screening tests for testicular cancer?
There are no blood tests used to screen for testicular cancer in men without symptoms. But doing a testicular self-exam (TSE) regularly may help you find cancer early. Some healthcare providers advise a TSE once a month. The American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn't have advice for how often it should be done. The ACS does advise that men be aware of testicular cancer. See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a lump on the testicle or other symptoms. These include:
- Swelling of a testicle
- Dull ache in the lower belly (abdomen)
- Heavy feeling in the lower abdomen
Have your healthcare provider check any swellings or lumps you find.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
Symptoms of testicular cancer can include:
- A lump on your testicle that is often painless, but it can be uncomfortable
- Enlargement of a testicle
- A feeling of heaviness or aching in the scrotum or lower belly (abdomen)
- Swelling in your breasts (rare)
- Pain in your lower back, which can be a sign that the cancer that has spread to your lymph nodes
- Shortness of breath, pain in the chest, or a cough, which can be signs that the cancer may have spread to your lungs
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is important to see your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
If your healthcare provider thinks you may have testicular cancer, you will need exams and tests to be sure. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. He or she will also give you a physical exam. During the exam, he or she will feel your testicles for any swelling, sore areas, or lumps. If there is a lump, your healthcare provider will note its size and location. The healthcare provider may also look carefully at your belly (abdomen), groin, and other parts of your body. This is to find signs that any tumors may have spread.
You may also have one or more of these tests or procedures:
- Blood tests
- Surgery to remove the testicle
After a diagnosis of testicular cancer, you may have other tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can help determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can understand.
How is testicular cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of testicular cancer you have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the risks and side effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may have just 1 treatment or a combination of treatments.
Several types of treatment can be used for testicular cancer. These include:
- Radiation therapy
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options. Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage normal cells. This can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and vomiting. Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might have and ways to manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to help prevent or control side effects.
Testicular cancer and its treatment may affect your fertility and level of interest in sex. Some effects may last a short time, or be permanent. The effects vary from person to person.
Coping with testicular cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
- Talk with your family or friends.
- Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
- Speak with a counselor.
- Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or rabbi.
- Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or anxiety.
- Keep socially active.
- Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay healthier, try to:
- Eat a healthy diet, with as many protein foods as possible.
- Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
- Keep physically active.
- Rest as much as needed.
- Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage treatment side effects.
- Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call. You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
- New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
- Signs of an infection, such as a fever
- Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or don't get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Key points about testicular cancer
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.