Understanding Testicular Cancer

Photo Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to learn more about testicular cancer, the most common cancer in American men 15 to 35. Testicular cancer is highly treatable, even when cancer has spread beyond the testicle. The most common early sign of testicular cancer is a firm lump within or enlargement of a testicle, these nodules or masses are usually painless; a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum; a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum; enlargement or tenderness of the breasts; and pain in a testicle, the scrotum or the back. In some cases, men discover testicular cancer themselves, either unintentionally or while doing a testicular self-examination to check for lumps. In other cases, your doctor may detect a lump during a routine physical exam.

If you detect any pain, swelling or lumps in your testicles or groin area, especially if these signs and symptoms last longer than two weeks, it would be a good idea to visit with your doctor.  To diagnose and determine whether a lump is testicular cancer, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound which uses sound waves to create an image of the scrotum and testicles; Blood Tests, to determine the levels of tumor markers in your blood and the levels of these substances may be elevated in certain situations such as in testicular cancer; Or surgery to remove a testicle if it’s determined that the lump on your testicle may be cancerous. Your extracted testicle will be analyzed to determine the type of testicular cancer.

The type of testicular cancer you have determines your treatment and your prognosis. In general, there are two types of testicular cancer: Seminoma and nonseminomas. Seminoma tumors occur in all age groups, but if an older man develops testicular cancer, it is more likely to be seminoma. Seminomas, in general, aren’t as aggressive as nonseminomas. Nonseminoma tumors tend to develop earlier in life and grow and spread rapidly. Several different types of nonseminoma tumors exist, including choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma, teratoma and yolk sac tumor.

Once your doctor confirms your diagnosis, the next step is to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. To determine whether cancer has spread outside of your testicle, you may undergo Computerized tomography (CT) scan and blood tests. After these tests, your testicular cancer is assigned a stage. The stage helps determine what treatments are best for you. The stages of testicular cancer are indicated by Roman numerals that range from 0 to III, with the lowest stages indicating cancer that is limited to the area around the testicle. By stage III, the cancer is considered advanced and may have spread to other areas of the body, such as the lungs.

Risk factors for testicular cancer include an undescended testicle, abnormal testicle development and a family history of testicular cancer.  If you’ve been diagnosed with testicular cancer, your treatment will be based on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, your overall health, and your preferences. Fortunately, even when cancer has spread, testicular cancer often responds well to treatment and, in most cases, a cure is possible. But if you notice any changes in a testicle, particularly new lumps or enlargement, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment options for testicular cancer at mayoclinic.org.

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