Testicular cancer accounts for only one percent of all types of cancers that occur in men; however, diagnosis rates climb with every passing year. This condition is also unusual when compared to other cancers as it tends to affect younger men—usually aged between 15 and 49—although it can present at any stage in life.
Germ cell testicular cancer is the most common type, making up 95 percent of all cases. Germ cells culminate to make up the sperm in the body. There are two subcategories of germ cell testicular cancer: seminoma and non-seminoma.
Seminoma is a slow-growing form of cancer commonly found in men in their 30s and 40s. This type is usually found in the testes but can also spread to other places such as the lymph nodes. Seminomas now account for 50-55 percent of cases of testicular cancer in the UK.
Non-seminoma grows more quickly than seminoma; the tumour is usually made up of a single type of cell but is sometimes mixed. There are four main subtypes of non-seminoma: embryonal carcinoma, yolk sac carcinoma, choriocarcinoma and teratoma.
The initial treatment option for most cases of testicular cancer is to have the affected testicle removed (orchiectomy). The removal of a single testicle shouldn’t affect fertility or regular sexual functions.
Additional treatment plans will depend on the stage and type of cancer in the patient. In some cases, a course of chemotherapy or radiotherapy will follow the removal surgery. If the physician is confident in your condition, they may suggest surveillance for a few years afterwards. Seminomas have been known to respond well to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments. Non-seminomas may also demand a short course of chemotherapy or a combination of medications. If the cancer is progressive, additional surgery may be necessary.
The likelihood of developing cancer will depend on a combination of factors such as age, genetics, diet and lifestyle. The precise cause of testicular cancer is still unknown, despite thorough medical investigation. A few risks have been identified that may leave a person more vulnerable to developing the condition. These include cryptorchidism, family history and previous testicular cancer.
Cryptorchidism. Men with cryptorchidism, or undescended testicles, are three times more likely to develop testicular cancer than those whose testicles descended at birth or not long after. For this reason, it is important for the testes to descend into the scrotum, if not naturally then through an operation called an orchidopexy.
Family history. Families with a history of testicular cancer often see the condition reappear in the younger generations. Some genes have been linked to the disease, leading some to speculate that it may be a hereditary condition. At the moment, this is still a theory; research on the link between testicular cancer and certain genes is still ongoing.
Previous testicular cancer. According to the NHS, men are four to 12 times more likely to develop testicular cancer if they have previously been diagnosed with it. With this in mind, it is imperative that previous sufferers check themselves regularly for warning signs and attend follow-up appointments.
Performing a self exam
Conduct a monthly check to detect any signs of testicular cancer in its early stages—it may save your life. Follow these simple steps:
- Check one testicle at a time.
- Gently roll the testicle between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands.
- Feel for hard lumps, smooth or round lumps and changes in size or shape.
What if I detect something irregular?
Don’t ignore your symptoms. If you notice any of these indicators or pain in your scrotum, contact your doctor or urologist—a urologist is the most qualified practitioner to confirm this kind of diagnosis.
Handy tip: the shower is the best place to conduct a testicular exam; the steam relaxes the skin and makes movement easier.