What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is cancer that develops in the testicles. The testicles are oval-shaped organs (glands) that produce semen. They are a part of the male reproductive system, located in the scrotum.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young and middle-aged men between the ages of 20 and 39. It can also occur in older men, and in rare cases, in younger boys.
What causes testicular cancer?
The exact cause of testicular cancer is not known to doctors and scientists. What is known is a certain factor can increase the risk of developing testicular cancer.
The following factors may increase a man’s risk of developing testicular cancer:
- History of an undescended testicle
- Abnormal testicle development
- The family history of testicular cancer
- History of testicular cancer
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- HIV infection
There are two different types of testicular cancer; seminoma and nonseminoma. These cancers grow from germ cells. These cells produce sperm.
Seminoma: This type of testicular cancer is found in men in their 30s and 40s. This cancer is in the testes, but it can spread to the lymph nodes. Seminomas are slow-growing cancers. They are very sensitive to radiation therapy.
Nonseminoma: This is the more common type of testicular cancer. Nonseminomas grow more quickly than seminomas.
Most of the nonseminoma tumors are made up of more than one type of cell, and are identified according to the following type of cells:
- Embryonal carcinoma
- Yolk sac tumor
- Choriocarcinoma (rare)
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
Mostly, testicular cancer causes no symptoms. The cancer may look like a painless lump in the testes. If symptoms occur, they may include:
- Lump or swelling in either testicle
- Discomfort or pain in the testicle
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- Enlarged testicle or a change in the way it feels
- Pain in the back or lower abdomen
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and review your symptoms. A physical exam may reveal a firm mass (lump) in one of the testicles. The doctor may perform a transillumination exam, during which the light may not pass through the lump. This exam involves holding a flashlight up to the scrotum and examining the testes.
The doctor may order the following tests for diagnosis:
- Abdominal and pelvic CT scan
- Chest x-ray
- Ultrasound of the scrotum
- Blood tests: Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), human chorionic gonadotrophin (beta HCG), and lactic dehydrogenase (LDH). These tests are called tumor markers.
If cancer is diagnosed, doctors examine the cancer under a microscope to determine the type of cancer cell. The cells can be seminoma, nonseminoma, or both. Next, doctors perform staging tests to determine how far the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Depending on the results of staging, testicular cancer is classified as stage I, stage II, or stage III.
How is testicular cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the type and stage of the cancer. It may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Usually, orchiectomy may be done. This is a surgical procedure to remove the testicle.
Generally, radiation therapy is used only for treating seminomas. Radiation therapy involves using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to shrink the tumors. Radiation is usually used after surgery to prevent the tumor from returning.
Chemotherapy is used for both seminomas and nonseminomas. This treatment involves using drugs to kill cancer cells.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.