Testicular cancer, also called malignant neoplasm of the testis, is a cancer that affects the testicles, which are the male reproductive organs held by the scrotum that produce sperm and male hormones.
Compared to most other cancers, testicular cancer is rare. However, it is also the most common cancer seen in young adult American males. Even when the disease has spread, it is highly treatable with a relatively high survival rate.
Most of the time, it is not clear what causes testicular cancer to form. It is known that the condition occurs when healthy cells somehow become altered. When the abnormal cells develop and divide, they can overtake healthy cells and grow out of control. A tumor forms when these altered cells accumulate into a mass.
The first indication of testicular cancer is usually a painless lump that can be felt in either testicle. Depending on whether the cancer has spread and how far, patients may also experience:
In rare instances, the disease may cause the patient’s breasts to grow or feel sore. Some tumors can lead to signs of premature puberty in boys, including early onset body and facial hair and a deepening voice.
It is not completely clear what causes testicular cancer, but there are certain things that increase the risk of the disease. Firstly, as with all types of cancer, those who smoke are more likely to develop testicular cancer than those who don’t. Similarly, a family history of testicular cancer can also increase an individual’s risk.
Undescended testicles, which is where one or both of the testicles remain in the abdomen rather than moving into the scrotum before birth, also increases testicular cancer risk. Men with HIV are another group of individuals known to be at increased risk. And it’s also believed that tall men could be more likely to develop the cancer.
Men who have had cancer in one testicle are at an increased risk of developing cancer in the other in the future, even after successful treatment of the first. However, this only seems to occur in 3 or 4% of men who had the disease.
50% of cases of testicular cancer occur in men aged between 24 and 30, so those in this age range are at a higher risk, but it can occur in men of all ages.
As is the case for many cancers, chemotherapy is a common medication for testicular cancer that works to stop the spread of the malignant tumor. Radiation therapy achieves a similar goal, the difference being that the procedure uses x-rays to kill abnormal cells. Patients may also be given hormone therapy to regulate hormone production. Some cases might require surgery. An inguinal orchiectomy removes one or both testicles and the spermatic cord, while retroperitoneal lymph node dissection removes the lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen.
Since most of the known risk factors of testicular cancer cannot be changed, it is difficult to prevent the disease. However, men who smoke should try to quit as soon as possible, as this will dramatically reduce their risk, not only of testicular cancer but also of all other types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and various other health conditions.
Although not a preventative method, checking the testicles on a monthly basis for lumps or changes could help to detect testicular cancer early. This can be done by simply rolling the testicles gently between the fingers and thumb; this is usually best done after a warm bath or shower to relax the scrotum skin.
Feel for any lumps which could be pea-sized or bigger and are usually painless. You may notice a structure on top and towards the back of the testicles, called the epididymis, which should not be confused for a lump. You should also feel for any changes in the shape, size or consistency of the testes. Any discovered lumps or changes should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.