Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

Testicular Cancer Awareness Month is held each April to encourage men aged 20 to 35 to get tested for testicular cancer. The month also serves as an opportunity to reflect on recent advances in research, treatment, and progress. According to the American Cancer Society, testicular cancer is still one of the most treatable cancers, with more than 95% of those diagnosed living for more than five years.

When testicular cancer was first diagnosed in patients in the 1960s, it became a thing. The disease manifests itself in the testicles, a component of the male reproductive system, causing a lump to form when touched. A percentage of men with testicular cancer will have no symptoms, according to medical researchers. Cancer may be discovered only during medical testing for other conditions, such as imaging tests to determine the cause of infertility.

What is Testicular Cancer?

Testicular cancer develops when cells in the testicle proliferate and form a tumor. This is unusual. More than 90% of testicular cancers start in the germ cells that produce sperm. Germ cell cancers are classified into two types (GCTs). Seminoma has a slow growth rate and responds well to radiation and chemotherapy. Non-seminoma can grow faster and be less responsive to treatments. Non-seminomas include choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma, teratoma, and yolk sac tumors.

There are also testicular cancers that do not develop in germ cells. Leydig cell tumors develop from testosterone-producing Leydig cells. Sertoli cell tumors develop from the Sertoli cells that help sperm grow normally. Testicular tumors can be made up of multiple types of cells.

What causes Testicular Cancer?

Although the exact cause or causes of testicular cancer are unknown, a number of risk factors for men have been identified.

The most significant risk factor for testicular cancer is undescended testicles (cryptorchidism). Three to five percent of boys are born with their testicles inside their abdomen. During the first year of life, they usually descend into the scrotum, but in some boys, the testicles do not descend. Testicles that do not descend by the time a boy is a year old usually do so later. If the testicles do not descend naturally, an orchidopexy can be performed to move the testicles into the proper position inside the scrotum. Men who have undescended testicles are approximately three times more likely to develop testicular cancer than men who have their testicles descend at birth or shortly thereafter.

Having a close relative with testicular cancer or an undescended testicle increases your chances of developing it as well. For example, if your father had testicular cancer, you are approximately four times more likely to develop the disease than someone with no family history of the condition.

GCNIS: Germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS) refers to abnormal cells in the testicle that are typically discovered during an infertility test. Microlithiasis, or small calcifications in the testis, does not increase the risk of testicular cancer (unless you have one of the risk factors above).

Symptoms of Testicular Cancer

Many of these symptoms are caused by conditions other than testicular cancer. A number of non-cancerous conditions, such as testicle injury or inflammation, can mimic testicular cancer symptoms. Inflammation of the testicle (orchitis) and inflammation of the epididymis (epididymitis) can cause testicular swelling and pain. Both of these can be brought on by viral or bacterial infections. Testicular cancer symptoms can be difficult to detect, especially at first. The symptoms include:

  • The most common symptom is a painless lump in the testicle
  • Testicular swelling, with or without pain
  • Weight sensation in the testicles
  • A dull pain or ache in the testicle, scrotum, or groin
  • Male breast tissue tenderness or changes

Tests to diagnose Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer is one of the most curable types of cancer. When detected early, the cure rate approaches 100 percent. This is true for men whose testicular cancer is in its early stages and has not spread beyond the testicle. The cure rate for men with stage II or III testicular cancer is still higher than for other cancers. Here are some common ways of diagnosis:

  • Testicular Self-Exam (Check each testicle, Find the epididymis and vas deferens, Look for lumps, swelling or things that don’t seem right, Check yourself at least once per month)
  • Medical Exams
  • Health Record and Physical Exam
  • Blood Test
  • Serum Tumor Marker Test

Testicular Cancer: Types of Treatment

A team of doctors, such as a urologist, oncologist, or radiation oncologist, will often collaborate to find the best treatment plan for each patient. Choices will be made based on the patient's specific diagnosis and health. Some of the most common treatments are as follows:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Orchiectomy
  • Testis Sparing Surgery
  • Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection