Testicular cancer is more common than you might expect, and the average age of a patient with testicular cancer is 33 years old. According to the American Cancer Society, roughly one in 263 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer during their life.
UnityPoint Health experts Deb Carlson, RN, BSN, MS, OCN, oncology nurse navigator, and Rachel Dow, adolescent young adult program coordinator, explain all aspects of testicular cancer, including self-exams, symptoms, treatment and survival.
How to Do a Testicular Self-Exam
Carlson suggests regular testicular self-exams to help catch testicular cancer symptoms as quickly as possible. Here are the steps:
- Hold your testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands.
- Roll it gently between your fingers.
- Look and feel for any hard lumps on testicle, or nodules (smooth rounded masses).
- Take notice of any change in the size, shape or consistency of your testicles.
“It’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other and for one to hang lower than the other,” Carlson says. “You should also be aware that each normal testicle has a small, coiled tube, called the epididymis, which can feel like a small bump on the upper or middle outer side of the testis.”
Testicular Cancer Symptoms
Signs of testicular cancer can vary. Carlson says to contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider if you discover any of these symptoms:
- Painless lump on testicle
- Enlarged testicle or swelling in either testicle
- A change in how the testicle feels
- Dull aching in the lower abdomen, back or groin
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
- Sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
Causes of Testicular Cancer
Risk factors for testicular cancer include undescended testicle, a prior history of cancer in one testicle and family history of testicular cancer. Testicular cancer can also be linked to other rare conditions where the testes don’t develop normally.
“In recent years, researchers have found inherited variations in certain genes appear to increase the risk of testicular cancer. These findings may help identify men at higher risk, but this needs to be studied more,” Carlson says.
Testicular Cancer Treatment
Testicular cancer can usually be cured, even in late stages of the disease. The testicular cancer survival rate is 99 percent for men whose cancer hasn’t spread beyond the testicles.
A biopsy is rarely done after a testicular cancer diagnosis because there is a risk of spreading the cancer. Instead, your provider may recommend surgery to remove the tumor. If testicular cancer is identified in the tumor, imaging tests for other parts of your body will be ordered to make sure cancer is contained in the testicle.
After the cancer is diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. Those options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surveillance and high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant.
Effects of Testicular Cancer Treatment
Testicular cancer treatments can make you unable to father a child. Before treatments begin, men who would like to father a child biologically should bank sperm for later use.
“Most boys and men develop cancer in only one testicle. The remaining testicle can usually make enough testosterone to keep you healthy. If the other testicle needs to be removed because cancer is in both testicles, or if a new cancer develops in the other testicle, you will need to take some form of testosterone for the rest of your life. Most often, this is a gel or patch applied to the skin or a monthly injection,” Carlson says.
Testicular Cancer Survival
The longer a patient waits to see a health care provider after the onset of testicular cancer symptoms, the more advanced the cancer may become, potentially leading to a poorer prognosis.
“In general, men with cancer report they feel a cultural expectation to ‘be strong’ and not ask for help during a cancer diagnosis,” Dow says. “For testicular cancer in particular, men may have one or both testicles removed, become infertile or have other side effects that oppose society’s typical male image. Because support services during a cancer diagnosis have been shown to result in a better prognosis and overall well-being, it is important to encourage and offer up psychosocial support for these individuals.”