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Testicular disorders

The testicles, also called testes, are part of the male reproductive system. They are two oval organs about the size of large olives and are located inside the scrotum, the loose sac of skin that hangs behind the penis. The testicles make male hormones, including testosterone, and produce sperm, the male reproductive cells. Problems with the testes can lead to serious illnesses, including hormonal imbalances, problems with sex, and infertility.

What disorders affect the testes?

Some of the more common conditions that affect the testes include testicular trauma, testicular torsion, testicular cancer, epididymitis and hypogonadism.

What is testicular trauma?

Because the testes are located within the scrotum, which hangs outside of the body, they do not have the protection of muscles and bones. This makes it easier for the testes to be struck, hit, kicked or crushed, which occurs most often during contact sports. Males can protect their testicles by wearing athletic cups during sports.

Trauma to the testes can cause severe pain, bruising and/or swelling. In most cases, the testes -- which are made of a spongy material -- can absorb the shock of an injury without serious damage. A rare type of testicular trauma, called testicular rupture, occurs when the testicle receives a direct blow or is squeezed against the hard bones of the pelvis. This injury can cause blood to leak into the scrotum. In severe cases, surgery to repair the rupture -- and thus save the testicle -- may be necessary.

What is testicular torsion?

Within the scrotum, the testicles are secured at either end by a structure called the spermatic cord. Sometimes this cord gets twisted around a testicle, cutting off the blood supply to the testicle. Symptoms of testicular torsion include sudden and severe pain, enlargement of the affected testicle, tenderness and swelling.

This condition, which occurs most often in young males less than 25 years of age, can result from an injury to the testicles or from strenuous activity. It can also occur for no apparent reason.

How is testicular torsion treated?

Testicular torsion requires immediate medical attention, with treatment usually involving correction of the problem through surgery. Testicular function may be saved if the condition is diagnosed and corrected immediately. If the blood supply to the testicle is cut off for a long period of time, the testicle can become permanently damaged and may need to be removed.

What is testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the testicles divide and grow uncontrolled. In some cases, certain benign (non- cancerous) tumours may progress and become cancer. Testicular cancer can develop in one or both testicles in men or young boys.

What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?

Symptoms of testicular cancer include a lump, irregularity or enlargement in either testicle; a pulling sensation or feeling of unusual heaviness in the scrotum; a dull ache in the groin or lower abdomen; and pain or discomfort (which may come and go) in a testicle or the scrotum.

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