What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is the result of abnormal cell growth in the testicles (also called testes or gonads). The two testes are the male sex organs that make and store sperm, and produce testosterone (male hormone). The scrotum, which sits under the penis, houses the testicles. Unlike most cancers, testicular cancer tends to grow slowly.
The good news is testicular cancer is highly curable, especially if it’s found early.
How common is testicular cancer?
Luckily, testicular cancer is not very common. In 2013, 960 Canadian men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer (http://testicularcancercanada.ca/index). Young males between the ages of 15 and 35 are most at risk. If you fall in this group be sure to check your testicles regularly (see below for instructions how to properly check).
What causes testicular cancer?
There are no known causes of testicular cancer. As with other cancers, your lifestyle and diet may contribute to how susceptible you are so be sure to keep active and eat a well balanced diet. Additionally, if you have a family history of cancer you may be at a higher risk so talk to your family and get informed.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
The most common symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- A change in the size, shape or firmness of one or both testes (this may or may not be accompanied by pain)
- A small bump or lump (this may or may not be accompanied by pain)
- A heavy feeling in the scrotum
- A dull pressure, pain or discomfort in the lower back, belly, or groin (or in all three places)
If you notice any changes in your testicles make sure to monitor them regularly and visit a doctor immediately if there is no improvement.
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
Most testicular cancer is found through self-examination (see below for instructions how to properly check). If you keep up to date on your regular physical exams a doctor is likely to notice it. For best protection be sure to do regular self-checks and have routine physical exams by a doctor.
How is testicular cancer treated?
Most men with testicular cancer can be cured with surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Surgery is the most common approach (called a radical inguinal orchiectomy) and involves removal of the testicle (or testicles in extreme cases). Removing one testicle does not make a man impotent (unable to have an erection) and rarely interferes with your ability to produce sperm and testosterone production. Before a radical inguinal orchiectomy some men choose to have their sperm stored in a sperm bank in the rare case they are unable to produce sperm after the operation.
Chemotherapy is a powerful medicine that kills cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used after surgery in an attempt to kill any cancer cells that may still exist in your body. If your cancer is advanced a doctor may choose to start with Chemotherapy. During chemotherapy you may experience a number of side effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue. These tend to go away after treatment but be sure to discuss the risks with your doctor before treatment.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Doctors use a machine to target radiation at the cancerous areas in your body. Radiation therapy is mostly used to treat a specific kind of cancer called seminoma but can be used after surgery to kill leftover cancer cells (just like Chemotherapy). If your cancer has spread outside of your testicles, radiation therapy is typically used to attack that cancer due to its targeted approach. During radiation therapy you may experience a number of side effects: nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, skin changes at the site where the treatment is given, temporary loss of sperm production. These too tend to go away after treatment but should be discussed with your doctor before treatment.
How to check for testicular cancer
- Inspect your testicles for any irregularities – swelling, bumps, generally anything that doesn’t seem normal
- Get in a comfortable position and with one hand support the testicles while using your other hand to feel the testicles
- Gently roll the testicles between your thumb and fingers feeling for swelling or lumps (don’t be afraid if you feel a small cord-like structure on the top and back – this is normal)
- Very gently squeeze each testicle to check for changes in firmness
Repeat this check once a month to help spot cancer early.