Testicular cancer usually shows up in young to middle-aged men, with an average age of 33, and one in every 250 males will develop it at some point in their lives.
Testicular cancer is a very curable cancer with a long term survival rate of greater than 90 percent. However, testicular cancer can still pose a deadly threat if individuals ignore the symptoms.
What Are the Testicles?
Testicles, also known as the testes, are organs of the male anatomy serving as a part of the reproductive system. Held within the scrotum, the two testes produce sperm and testosterone.
How to Spot Testicular Cancer
Most testicular cancers are diagnosed after a man notices a lump in one of his testicles. Alternately, it may be identified by a clinician during a physical exam. Most commonly the cancer only affects one testicle.
The most frequent symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- Groin pain
- Lower back pain
- Dull aches in the abdomen
- Breast enlargement
Dr. Jeffrey Blitstein, a urologist at Summit Health, says that “The most common presentation of testicular cancer is a painless mass of the testicle. Therefore, a monthly self-examination of the testes is important for early detection.”
If you feel any of these symptoms and they last longer than two weeks, you should seek a doctor’s advice.
Testicular Cancer Risk Factors
Although the exact causes of testicular cancer aren't known, doctors have been able to identify risk factors. Some possible risk factors for testicular cancer are:
- Family history - As with other diseases, having a family member with a history of testicular cancer, may place you at higher risk.
- Age - Testicular cancer symptoms manifest themselves in all ages but is primarily found in teenagers to middle-aged men.
- Cryptorchidism - Cryptorchidism is the condition in which a testicle fails to descend out of the abdomen into the scrotum. Testicles usually descend before birth but if they do not fully descend it increases the risk for testicular cancer.
What Are the Types of Testicular Cancer?
When looking for testicular cancer symptoms, it is helpful to understand the different types.
Germ Cell Tumors
Germ cell tumors account for 90-95 percent of testicular cancer. There are two main types of germ cell tumors: seminoma and nonseminomatous germ cell tumors.
Seminomas tend to grow more slowly than other germ cell tumors and can secrete human chorionic gonadotropin. Essentially, high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin determine how severe a testicular cancer diagnosis is. Seminomas usually respond well to chemotherapy and traditional cancer treatments.
Nonseminomas can appear in multiple forms, referred to as mixed NSGCTs.
Yolk sac carcinoma
Yolk sac carcinomas secrete alpha fetoprotein (AFP), which is a telltale sign of the presence of testicular cancer. It is also the most common form of testicular cancer in younger individuals.
This is a concerning form of nonseminoma, often more aggressive than other tumors. It makes up nearly half of nonseminoma germ cell tumors.
Stromal tumors manifest from areas surrounding the testicle. Stromal tumors are rarer than other types of testicular cancer. However, those with stromal tumors have a relatively promising chance of recovery.
How Do You Treat Testicular Cancer?
Testicular cancer symptoms are treatable. There are a few effective treatments to consider if you are diagnosed with testicular cancer after blood tests and examinations.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer, but the main types are:
- Removal - Often, the most straightforward and standard method of eliminating testicular cancer is removing the testicle entirely. This is called radical inguinal orchiectomy. During the radical inguinal orchiectomy, a doctor removes the testicle through an incision in the pubic area. If cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, the patient may require a procedure to remove lymph nodes in the abdomen. This is called retroperitoneal lymph node dissection.
- Radiation - Radiation treatment is a standard cancer treatment and uses gamma and x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation treatment is often very effective against seminomas.
- Chemotherapy - Perhaps the most common cancer treatment, chemotherapy is a valid option for testicular cancer treatment. Chemotherapy medications, called alkylating agents, are highly effective in killing testicular cancer cells
The exact treatment plan will be based on the exact type of tumor cells, whether the disease has spread beyond the testes, and discussion between the doctor and patient. In addition, options to preserve sperm though sperm banking for future childbearing will be discussed prior to treatment.
Final Thoughts on Testicular Cancer Symptoms
Make sure to familiarize yourself with our urology and oncology department, and ensure you're choosing a specialist who can help you. These professionals are dedicated to spotting cancer symptoms early and developing comprehensive treatment plans.