Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 20 and 34, and the leading cause of cancer-related death in this age group. Despite its higher prevalence in young males, testicular cancer is considered to be a modern medical success story with more than 95% of men who are diagnosed being cured. Self-exams are the key to early detection.
Here is what Meredith Baker, MD, urologist at Summit Medical Group Oregon – Bend Urology Associates, says you should know about how to prevent, diagnose, and treat testicular cancer.
WHAT IS TESTICULAR CANCER?
Testicular cancer is a cancer that develops in the testicles, a part of a man’s reproductive system.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
Testicular cancers usually arise spontaneously, but some risk factors include an undescended testicle in childhood or family history of testicular cancer. Testicular cancer most commonly occurs in males 20 to 34 years old.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms may include a lump in the testicle. This can sometimes be associated with swelling or pain in the scrotum.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Diagnosis is usually based on a physical exam, an ultrasound of the testicles, blood tests and sometimes CT scans of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Surgical removal of the testicle and analysis by a pathologist is then done to determine the type of testicular cancer. The most common type is germ cell tumors, which are divided into seminomas and nonseminomas.
CAN IT SPREAD?
Testicular cancer can metastasize which means it can spread to other parts of the body. During metastasis, cells leave the original tumor and migrate to other parts of the body through blood vessels and lymph vessels, forming a new tumor. Testicular cancer metastasis most often involves the abdomen, lungs and brain. Testicular cancer can spread quickly and is deadly if left untreated.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Testicular cancer is highly treatable and usually curable. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The five-year survival rate for testicular cancer is 95%. Outcomes are better when the disease is localized to the testicle and has not spread, but even in cases where the cancer has spread throughout the body, chemotherapy offers a cure rate over 80%.
HOW CAN I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
Most testicular cancers can be found at an early stage which is why monthly self-exams are so important. If a man notices and lumps or changes in his testicles, it is important to see a doctor immediately. Not all lumps or irregularities are cancerous; however, only a doctor can make that determination. Waiting to see if it will go away will not help. Most men with testicular cancer do not feel ill or experience pain. It is often best to do a self-exam during or right after a warm shower or bath. The warmth relaxes the scrotum which makes the exam easier. Don’t be concerned if one testicle is slightly larger than the other or if one testicle hangs lower than the other. Those are normal findings.
Meredith R. Baker, MD
Dr. Baker practices general urology and treats cancer, stones, pelvic pain, and incontinence among a wide variety of age groups. Dr. Baker completed her undergraduate degree at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and obtained her medical degree from the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center. She completed her General Surgery internship and residency in urology at the University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas and trained at five major hospitals including Parkland Memorial Hospital, Baylor Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.