Testicular cancer is a disease caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the testes, or testicles.
The testicles (testes) are located inside the scrotum, a loose bag of skin underneath the penis. They produce male sex hormones and sperm cells for reproduction.
When diagnosed early, testicular cancer is highly treatable. Regular testicular self-examinations can help identify dangerous growths early, when the chance for successful treatment is highest.
Signs and symptoms
Testicular cancer can result in a number of signs and symptoms. These may include:
Cancer usually affects only one testicle.
Researchers don't know what causes testicular cancer. Risk factors may include:
When to seek medical advice
See your doctor if you detect any pain, swelling or lumps in your testicles or groin area, especially if these symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. Make an appointment with your doctor even if a lump in your testicle is not painful. Only a small percentage of testicular cancers are painful from the outset.
Other diseases and conditions can produce testicular lumps. These may include:
Some of these conditions are harmless. However, see your doctor any time that you have a lump or other symptoms of testicular cancer.
Screening and diagnosis
Most men discover testicular cancer themselves, either unintentionally or while doing a testicular self-examination to check for lumps.
If you bring signs and symptoms of testicular cancer to your doctor's attention, or your doctor discovers a lump during a routine office visit, your doctor will likely do a physical exam and order lab tests to see if they're due to infection or another cause. You may also undergo an ultrasound examination. This painless test passes sound waves through your scrotum to make an image of your testicles.
The testicles contain several types of cells, and each may develop into several types of cancer. Each type grows and spreads differently. Treatment and prognosis also vary according to type.
Doctors classify testicular cancer as one of two types:
Sometimes the diagnosis is unclear. If so, a pathologist can check tissue taken from the affected testicle. This is done to see if cancer cells are present. If the lump is noncancerous, there's usually no need to remove the testicle. If the lump is a malignant tumor, the pathologist will also determine what types of cancer cells are present.
After the type of cancer has been established, you may need blood tests, X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and other tests to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
With these test results, your doctor classifies the cancer according to its stage. These include:
If cancer is confirmed, your surgeon may remove the affected testicle through a surgical incision in your groin. Your surgeon doesn't remove just a part of the testicle for examination. Doing so might allow cancer cells to spread elsewhere; therefore, the entire testicle is removed.
Losing a testicle won't make you sterile or interfere with your ability to have sexual intercourse. The remaining healthy testicle can maintain your normal sexual and hormonal functions.
Removal of both testicles results in infertility. But you can take male hormones to keep your sexual function essentially normal. The three ways to replace testosterone are:
If you're concerned about your ability to have children now or in the future, talk with your doctor about preserving some of your sperm before the removal of one or both testicles. Sperm can be frozen and stored (cryopreserved) before treatment for later use.