The following describes the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of testicular cancer. For specific information regarding your health and treatment options, please contact your Hurley physician or medical professional.
What is testicular cancer?
The testicles (also called the testes or gonads) are the male sex glands. They are located outside of the body, behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. The testicles produce sperm and several male hormones, including testosterone, which affect development of the reproductive organs and other male characteristics such as the growth of body and facial hair, a low voice, narrow hips and wide shoulders.
Testicular cancer describes cancer that develops in one or both of the testicles. Approximately 8,000 to 9,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year. Testicular cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer; approximately 95% of men diagnosed with the disease will recover from the disease. This high rate of curability, however, should not lead you to avoid or delay medical treatment. When testicular cancer spreads, it does so because cancer cells are carried to tissues all over the body through the blood or lymph (the clear fluid you may see in blisters). If this happens, the cancer is usually much more difficult to treat.
What causes testicular cancer?
The exact causes of testicular cancer, as with most cancers, are unknown. While all men are at risk of developing testicular cancer, there are certain factors that increase the possibility of being diagnosed with the disease. Younger or middle-aged men, between the ages of 20 and 54, are more likely to develop testicular cancer, as are Caucasian men.
Men with certain medical conditions such as undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) or HIV infection are more prone to testicular cancer, and men whose mothers took the hormone diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant, to prevent a miscarriage, also tend to be at risk. Men in certain occupations, such as miners, gas workers, food and beverage workers, among others, whose work puts them into potential contact with certain chemicals and other potential toxins, may also have a higher likelihood of experiencing testicular cancer.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
Since some of the symptoms of testicular cancer vary across individuals and may appear similar to symptoms of other illnesses and disorders, you should always speak to your Hurley physician about any symptoms you are experiencing.
The first and easiest way for a man to detect the possibility of testicular cancer is through regular testicular self-examination (TSE). Your Hurley physician can teach you how to conduct a testicular self-examination; you can also click here for TSE instructions provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. If you detect a lump or strange growth on your testicles, contact a medical professional immediately.
According to National Cancer Institute guidelines, men should contact a physician if any of the following symptoms lasts for two or more weeks:
- a painless lump or swelling in a testicle
- pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
- any enlargement of a testicle or change in the way it feels
- a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- a dull ache in the lower abdomen, back or groin
- a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
During your appointment, your Hurley physician will ask you questions about your medical history and conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests may be ordered, including blood tests to check for levels of certain enzymes and other markers. Your physician may conduct a testicular biopsy, in which small samples of tissue are removed using a needle or through a small incision. These tissue samples are analyzed by a trained pathologist, for the presence of abnormal cells. CT scans, MRIs, x-rays (including lymphangiography, in which dye is injected into the lymph system to improve images) and ultrasound may also be used to determine the location and size of a tumor.
How is testicular cancer treated?
Part of the diagnostic testing process involves grading and “staging” the testicular cancer. In this step, your oncologist will determine the type of cancerous cells or tumors present, the rate of tumor growth, and the degree to which the cancer has spread to other organs and systems of the body. Your oncologist will then recommend a course of treatment that takes this information into account, as well as your age, overall health, and personal and family circumstances, and your unique needs and objectives for treatment.
Surgery may be required to remove the tumor and the affected testicle or testicles. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used, alone, in combination with each other, or in addition to surgical techniques. There are also a number of new drugs and innovative therapies that have been developed recently to target and treat testicular cancer, including stem-cell therapy to help promote the production of healthy blood cells.
Research on testicular cancer is ongoing; you may wish to speak with your Hurley physician about clinical trials that are testing new, emerging treatment options.