Testicular Cancer: Get the Facts
What is cancer of the testicles?
Almost all cancer of the testicles starts in the cells that produce sperm. There are two main types of testicular cancer, called “seminomas” and “non-seminomas.” Doctors can tell which type a patient has by looking at the cells under a microscope. Less common types of testicular cancers include stromal tumors, Leydig cell tumors and Sertoli cell tumors.
What are the risk factors for testicular cancer?
No one knows what causes cancer to form in the testicles, but doctors have identified some risk factors. However, boys and men can get testicular cancer without having any of these risk factors.
The most common testicular cancer risk factors are:
- An undescended testicle – This means that a testicle stays in the belly or groin area when a person is born. This condition raises the risk of testicular cancer.
- Family history of testicular cancer – If your father or a brother has had this type of cancer, you may be more likely to get it. However, most men with testicular cancer don’t have the disease in their families.
- HIV infection or AIDS – Men infected with the human immunodeficiency virus are at increased risk.
- Certain races or ethnicities – White men get testicular cancer much more often than black or Asian-American men, but the reason for this is not known.
Testicular cancer can be found early
A lump on the testicle is often the first symptom of testicular cancer. In some cases, a swollen testicle can indicate a problem. That’s why doctors recommend having the testicles examined as part of an annual physical. On the other hand, some testicular cancers do not cause symptoms and can become more serious before they are found.
Primary symptoms of testicular cancer
Any lump or swelling in the testicles can be a symptom of testicular cancer and should be examined by a doctor. However, it’s not a concern if one testicle is already larger than the other or hangs lower than the other.
Most testicular cancer does not cause pain, but some men feel heaviness or aching in the lower part of the belly or in the pubic area. Also, injuries to the testicles and testicular inflammation can cause symptoms similar to a cancer condition.
Even if you have testicular cancer and the cancer has spread from the testicles, symptoms may not be felt or noticed, however, some men do have the following symptoms:
- Low back pain if cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
- Shortness of breath, chest pain, or a cough if cancer has spread to the lungs
- Belly pain caused by enlarged lymph nodes or if the cancer has spread to the liver
- Headaches or confusion if cancer has made it to the brain
The stages of testicular cancer
Cancer experts have divided testicular cancer into four main stages. These are:
- Stage 0 – In this early stage, a doctor has found abnormal cells in the places where sperm cells develop. These cells aren’t yet cancer, but they may become cancerous and spread into nearby normal tissue. At this stage, the patient’s tests look normal.
- Stage 1 – At this stage, the testicles have some amount of active cancer. The cancer may have already started to spread inside the testicle and possibly to the scrotum or sac that holds the testicles. Tests may show a higher than normal reading.
- Stage 2 – By this stage, the cancer has spread outside of the testicle and possibly to the scrotum or sac that holds the testicles. Tumor tests still may show a normal or only slightly higher than normal reading.
- Stage 3 – Now the cancer may have spread to nearby and also distant parts of the body, including the lymph nodes and lungs. Tests will often show a high reading on one or more markers, but the readings can still be normal even at this point.
Treating testicular cancer
Make sure you understand your choices, then decide what’s best for you. Take a little time to talk with your RCCA team. They will help you form a cancer treatment plan. The plan can make use of the following treatments, separately or together:
- Removal of the cancerous cells with surgery
- Weakening the cancer with anticancer drugs (this is called “chemotherapy”)
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays (radiation therapy)
New treatments are always being tested in research studies called “clinical trials.” A new treatment that came out of clinical trials is the use of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. Stem cells are simple, healthy cells that are placed in the body and can develop into other kinds of cells.
Coping with testicular cancer
Your RCCA doctors and nurses will give you the information and support you’ll need to get through your treatment. Also be aware that other resources, such as the American Cancer Society, can help. Talk with your doctor if you need these kinds of help:
- Nursing services
- Social work services
- Financial aid
- Nutritional advice
- Rehabilitation or physical therapy
- Spiritual help
- Rides to treatment
- Support groups
Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care you can trust
Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) offers high-quality, comprehensive and advanced treatment close to home. At RCCA, you’ll be treated by experts who are part of one of the largest cancer care networks in the country. We focus on every patient, individually, and work with you and your family to make sure your care is second to none.