Testicular cancer: Four facts every man should know

Testicular cancer is among the most treatable, curable cancers; however, it’s a topic most men avoid discussing.

When detected early, the odds of beating this cancer are greater than 99 percent. But if it goes untreated, it can become deadly. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 9,910 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in 2022.

While the diagnosis rates for testicular cancer have increased in the United States over the last few decades, the risk of dying from it is relatively low – 1 in 5,000. Fortunately, early detection typically results in successful treatment, and very often full recovery.

How much do you really know about testicular cancer? Here are four facts you should know.

1. Symptoms may not always mean cancer

Men diagnosed with testicular cancer may experience a variety of signs and symptoms while some show no symptoms whatsoever. However, it’s important to note that some of the symptoms associated with this cancer are similar to those of other conditions.

Symptoms of testicular cancer may include:

  • A painless lump or swelling on either testicle. If found early, the tumor may be about the size of a pea or marble.
  • Pain, discomfort, or numbness in a testicle or the scrotum – with or without swelling.
  • Change in the way a testicle feels or heaviness in the scrotum.
  • Dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
  • Sudden buildup of fluid in the scrotum.
  • Breast tenderness or growth. This symptom is rare; however, some tumors contribute to a rise in hormones that can cause breast tenderness or growth in breast tissue.
  • Men with late-stage testicular cancer may experience lower back pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, or bloody sputum or phlegm.

Keep in mind that many symptoms and signs of testicular cancer are similar to those caused by noncancerous conditions. For example:

  • A change in size or a lump in the testicle could be caused by a cyst, enlargement of blood vessels, a buildup of fluid, or even a hernia.
  • Pain can be caused by an infection, an injury, or twisting of the testicle.

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please speak with your doctor.

2. Certain men are at a higher risk

There are a handful of well-established risk factors that play a role when it comes to testicular cancer.

Testicular cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in young adult men, particularly between ages 30 and 39. Around six percent of cases occur in children and teens and about eight percent occur in men over the age of 55.

An undescended testicle (cryptorchidism) is the most significant risk factor for testicular cancer. This is when a testicle hasn’t moved into the bag of skin below the penis before birth. The risk of cancer is not directly related to the fact that the testicle does not move down, but it is believed that the lack of movement likely indicates an abnormality in the testicle, making cancer more likely. In addition, it is generally found that the higher the testicle, the higher the risk of testicular cancer.

Family history is another common risk factor. If a man has a brother with testicular cancer, the man is eight to 12 times more likely to receive a diagnosis. And if a man’s father has testicular cancer, the man is two to four times more likely to also develop the condition. While there is not a specific gene linked to testicular cancer, it is highly hereditary and can be passed from generation to generation.

We should note that tobacco use, bicycle riding, obesity, and height are not risk factors.

3. Testicular cancer can be found at an early stage

Many men find the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer themselves while performing self-examinations.

Your physician may recommend that you perform a monthly self-examination beginning at age 15 to monitor any changes. These examinations are best done after a warm shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed.

  • Examine each testicle separately
  • Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands and roll it gently between your fingers
  • Look and feel for any hard lumps, smooth round masses, or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testicles

Those who notice a lump, hardness, enlargement, or pain in one of both of the testicles should visit their primary care physician immediately.

4. There are multiple treatment options for the condition

While a cancer diagnosis is always serious, the good news about testicular cancer is that it is treated successfully in 96 percent of cases, especially when detected early.

After a routine exam and blood tests from your primary care provider, you may receive an ultrasound. If further examination is required, you will likely be referred to a urologist – a surgeon dedicated to managing disease of the testicles.

If a testicular cancer diagnosis is confirmed, the next step is to determine whether the cancer has spread. This will require a chest x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, MRI, and lymph node dissection (lymphadenectomy) to see if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

If you have stage one cancer, removal of the testicle will usually cure the cancer. But, your surgeon will recommend a schedule of follow-up appointments where you will have blood tests, CT scans, and other diagnostic procedures to make sure the cancer has not returned. Some men with stage two or three cancer may need a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Men – have you had a checkup this year? An annual checkup with your primary care provider is the perfect opportunity to talk about whether screening is right for you and what type of screening is best. Find a provider here.