What You Need to Know About Testicular Cancer


Dr. Jason Sellers

Testicular cancer affects young men early on in life, but is treatable and survivable. Here’s what men need to know about the disease.

Men's health - man jogging

It’s Testicular Cancer Awareness Month every April, so we’re sharing more about this disease affecting men of all ages. Did you know the average age of testicular cancer patients at diagnosis is just 33?

Each year, there’s an average of 9,400 cases diagnosed and around 440 deaths from the disease. We’ll dive into the risk factors, signs, treatment, and if you can prevent testicular cancer to help men be vigilant and stay healthy.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer for males between the ages of 20 and 35 and these younger men are at the greatest risk for the disease, as middle-aged and older men are less likely to contract it.

Some other risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Caucasian/white ethnicity
  • An undescended testicle
  • A father or brother who had testicular cancer
  • HIV infection
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome
  • A previous bout with testicular cancer

Taller men are shown to have a mildly higher risk in many studies, but other studies don’t find a connection.

As for signs, the most obvious sign is new lumps on or swelling in a testicle, which often isn’t as painful as one might think. In fact, the majority of cases are completely painless. These changes can also cause a feeling of heaviness or aching in the lower abdomen or scrotum.

Some other warning signs or signs of the cancer spreading include:

  • Breast growth or soreness
  • Early puberty onset
  • Pain in the lower back
  • A cough, chest pain, or shortness of breath
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Headaches or confusion

Treatment Options

Testicular cancer is very treatable and has a very high cure rate after treatment. Make sure to consult with your doctor about what the best option is for you.

Surgery is typically the first step for treatment as it’s often a quicker fix than pursuing the longer treatments. The surgery is usually an orchiectomy, meaning the affected testicle is fully removed from the body, and sometimes an additional operation is needed to remove lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen that are attached to major blood vessels.

If the cancer has spread beyond the testicles, chemotherapy is often pursued to eliminate cancer cells that spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

For patients who develop a seminoma, a kind of tumor, then radiation therapy or chemotherapy is oftentimes used to eliminate any traces of cancer in the lymph nodes that can’t be seen.

For recurrent cases of testicular cancer, high-dose chemotherapy paired with a stem cell transplant is used. Stem cells are collected in advance of the treatment and transfused back into the body after a very high dose of chemotherapy has been applied.

Is Prevention Possible?

Unfortunately, there is no clear path to preventing testicular cancer. Some experts recommend correcting undescended testicles, but there isn’t a clear connection between this operation and preventing the disease.

The best defense for men is catching any warning signs as early as possible, which is best done by conducting regular self-exams each month after puberty begins. There may be some harmless lumpiness due to a buildup of fluids, but it’s always advisable to have a physician check out any lumps or swelling you find. Sometimes, the doctor might order an ultrasound exam, which is painless and easy to do.

What is fortunate is that testicular cancer has an average 5-year survival rate of 95%, meaning that diagnosed patients are 95% as likely to live 5 more years as men who didn’t have that cancer. While it might be uncomfortable or embarrassing to discuss it or receive a physical examination from another person, early detection is the best defense against testicular cancer.

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