What is Testicular Cancer?
Cancer of the testicle is one of the less common cancers and tends to mostly affect men between 15 and 49 years of age. Typical symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles, or any change in shape or texture of the testicles. It’s important to be aware of what feels normal for you. Get to know your body and see your GP if you notice any changes.
The most common type of testicular cancer is “germ cell testicular cancer”, which accounts for around 95% of all cases. Germ cells are a type of cell that the body uses to create sperm.
There are two main subtypes of germ cell testicular cancer. They are:
- seminomas – which have become more common in the past 20 years and now account for 50 to 55% of testicular cancers
- non-seminomas – which account for most of the rest and include teratomas, embryonal carcinomas, choriocarcinomas and yolk sac tumours
Both types tend to respond well to chemotherapy.
Less common types of testicular cancer include:
- Leydig cell tumours – which account for around 1 to 3% of cases
- Sertoli cell tumours – which account for around 1% of cases
- lymphoma – which accounts for around 4% of cases
Please consult your GP for advice or diagnosis.
Who is at risk?
The exact cause or causes of testicular cancer are unknown, but a number of factors have been identified that increase a man’s risk of developing it. The three main risk factors are described below.
Undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) is the most significant risk factor for testicular cancer.
Around 3 to 5% of boys are born with their testicles inside their abdomen. They usually descend into the scrotum during the first year of life, but in some boys the testicles don’t descend.
Having a close relative with a history of testicular cancer or an undescended testicle increases your risk of also developing it.
For example, if your father had testicular cancer, you’re around 4 times more likely to develop it than someone with no family history of the condition. If your brother had testicular cancer, you’re about 8 times more likely to develop it.
Current research suggests a number of genes may be involved in the development of testicular cancer in families where more than one person has had the condition. This is an ongoing area of research in which patients and their families may be asked to take part.
PREVIOUS TESTICULAR CANCER
Men who’ve previously been diagnosed with testicular cancer are between 4 and 12 times more likely to develop it in the other testicle.
Testicular cancer symptoms
Typical symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles, or any change in shape or texture of the testicles.
The swelling or lump can be about the size of a pea but may be larger.
Most lumps or swellings in the scrotum aren’t in the testicle and aren’t a sign of cancer, but they should never be ignored.
Testicular cancer can also cause other symptoms, including:
- an increase in the firmness of a testicle
- a difference between one testicle and the other
- a dull ache or sharp pain in your testicles or scrotum, which may come and go
- a feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
Testicular cancer diagnosis
See your GP as soon as possible if you notice a swelling, lump or any other change in one of your testicles.
Most lumps within the scrotum aren’t cancerous, but it’s important to get checked as soon as possible. Treatment for testicular cancer is much more effective when started early.
Testicular cancer treatments
Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are the three main treatments for testicular cancer.
Your recommended treatment plan will depend on:
- the type of testicular cancer you have – whether it’s a seminoma or a non-seminoma
- the stage of your testicular cancer
The first treatment option for all cases of testicular cancer, whatever the stage, is to surgically remove the affected testicle (an orchidectomy).
For stage one seminomas, after the testicle has been removed, a single dose of chemotherapy may be given to help prevent the cancer returning. A short course of radiotherapy is also sometimes recommended.
However, in many cases, the chance of recurrence is low and your doctors may recommend that you’re very carefully monitored over the next few years. Further treatment is usually only needed for the small number of people who have a recurrence.