What is Testicular Cancer?
Testicular cancer is a rare disease in men caused by abnormal growth of cells of the testicle. It is an uncommon cancer, responsible for less than one per cent of all cancer deaths. However, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 20 to 34 and it therefore vital to be aware of the disease and to recognise the symptoms. The good news is that testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers: in excess of ninety percent; essentially one hundred percent if it has not spread.
Causes of testicular cancer
The causes of testicular cancer are unclear but there seem to be a number of risk factors. These include:
- being born with an undescended testicle
- having a family history of testicular cancer
- fertility problems
- having mumps as a child and developing mumps orchitis (a painful swelling of the testis)
Types of testicular cancer
There are two types of common testicular cancer - seminoma and teratoma. Seminomas are made up of a single type of cell and are slow growing whereas teratomas consist of more than one type of testicular cell and tend to spread more quickly. Occasionally, the cancer can be a combination of seminoma and teratoma.
Symptoms and Signs of Testicular Cancer
The most common sign of testicular cancer is a lump or hardening or one testicle. The best time to examine the testicles is in the bath or shower when the scrotum is looser. Feel each testicle by rolling it between the forefinger and the thumb. Additional symptoms to be aware of are;
- tenderness in the groin or lower abdomen
- pain or tenderness in the testicle or scrotum
- an increase or decrease in the size of one testicle
- a sudden build up of fluid in the scrotum (called a hydrocele).
- a pulling sensation or feeling of unusual heaviness in the scrotum
If any of these symptoms are experienced you should see your GP as soon as possible
Diagnosis of testicular cancer
In order to diagnose testicular cancer, the doctor will perform a full examination and you will have to undergo a number of tests. These include ultrasound, a painless procedure using sound waves to image the testes and possible CT scans to determine the extent of disease. In addition blood tests will also be carried out to measure various tumour markers. These enable the tumour to be 'staged' and the correct treatment determined.
Treatment of Testicular Cancer
The normal treatment for testicular cancer on the surgical removal of the affected testis, a procedure known as orchiectomy. Many men dread the removal of one of their testes however it does not affect the ability to have an erection or decreases fertility. It is also possible to have an artificial testicle inserted into the scrotum to give a normal appearance if desired.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs are often given together with surgery, particularly if the cancer has spread beyond the testicles. Radiotherapy may also be used, particularly for the treatment for seminomas.Chemotherapy and radiotherapy have some side effects and can cause some short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting and temporary hair loss, these get better however when the treatment in completed.