Testicular cancer: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is cancer that develops in a man's testicle.
Testicular cancer is relatively rare and makes up around 1% of all male cancers.
Around 2,418 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year in the UK.
Testicular cancer usually affects younger men between 15 and 49.
The main symptom of testicular cancer is a swelling or painless lump in a testicle. There may also be an aching feeling or feeling of unusual heaviness in the scrotum.
Once diagnosed, testicular cancer is very treatable with more than 95% of men treated for early stage testicular cancer being completely cured.
Testicular cancer may spread slowly or rapidly through the lymphatic system or blood vessels, depending on its type, but the path is consistent. Once the cancer cells are free to spread to nearby lymph or blood vessels, they could be carried to the lungs, to the liver, to the bones, and possibly to the brain.
What causes testicular cancer?
It’s not known why a man develops testicular cancer. However, doctors have found links between testicular cancer and other factors. These are described here.
Testicular cancer is more likely to occur in men who also had a condition called an undescended testicle or cryptorchidism. The testicles normally develop within the abdominal/pelvic cavity and in most cases they migrate to the groin and scrotum prior to birth. With cryptorchidism, something prevents the normal descent of the testicle, or testicles, into the scrotum. The undescended testicle then remains somewhere along the normal path, within the abdomen or groin.
Even if an undescended testicle is surgically brought down into the scrotum, it is still at greater risk of developing testicular cancer. However, the normal position allows for better and closer monitoring.
Testicular cancer is more common in those who have close relatives with the condition.
Testicular cancer is around 5 times more common in white men than black men, although it’s not known why.
Men with fertility problems are more likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer. All men with fertility problems should be checked for cancer of the testicle.
Other factors that increase the risk of testicular cancer include having HIV/AIDS, being taller in height than average and being a long-term smoker.
In the past it was thought that testicular injury and vasectomy increased the risk of testicular cancer but this is no longer believed to be true.
Non-cancerous growths in the testicle are rare, so it’s important that all masses are checked by a GP to determine if it is cancer or something else.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
The earliest warning signs of testicular cancer usually include the following:
- A change in size or shape of a testicle
- Swelling or thickening of a testicle
- A firm, smooth, initially painless, slow-growing lump or hardness in a testicle
- A feeling of testicular heaviness
Other symptoms of testicular cancer may include:
- Testicular pain
- A sudden gathering of fluid in the scrotum
- An abdominal mass or abdominal pain
- Loss of weight or appetite; fatigue; lower back pain; chest lumps, breathlessness and cough