Cancer is never good news, but the general outlook for testicular cancer is positive. Early detection, moreover, can prevent the disease from spreading and causing further complications.
In fact, in first world countries, the 5-year post-diagnosis survival rate approaches 95%. If caught early, and if the disease hasn’t metastasised, the survival rate only increases.
The testicles serve two main functions
- Firstly, they are responsible for producing male hormones (that is, androgens like testosterone).
- Secondly, they create sperm cells, which are passed on to other reproductive organs to make semen.
The sperm cells are made inside the testicles in thread-like tubes called seminiferous tubules. Once created, the sperm cells are stored in a coiled tube behind each testicle called the epididymis.
Germ cell tumours (GCTs)
Germ cells are the cells in the testes that generate sperm, and 90% of all testicular cancer originates from these cells. Germ cell tumours (GCTs) are divided into two categories:
- Seminomas – in comparison with other testicular cancers, seminomas grow and spread at a relatively slow rate.
- Non-seminomas – these tumours grow faster than seminomas, and are common in men whose ages range from their late teens the to early 30s.
Gonadal stromal tumours, originating in the hormone-producing and supportive tissues of the testicles (known as the stroma), do not germ cell tumours but account for up to 20% of childhood testicular tumours.
Early detection, as with all cancers, is key to successful treatment. Knowing the symptoms is a crucial part of early detection, and all men should be familiar with the following signs:
- Lumps and nodules (smooth, rounded masses) in one or both of the testes
- The lump/nodule may present with pain or without pain
- A swollen testis
- A sensation often described as “heaviness” in the scrotum
- Pain in the scrotum and/or lower abdomen
- Pain in the lower back resulting from cancer spreading to lymph nodes
- Changes in the voice and facial and body hair in young boys
- An enlargement of the breast tissue
If cancer has metastasised, symptoms associated with other cancers may arise. The above symptoms, however, are not proof of testicular cancer, and only serve to (strongly) encourage a trip to your medical doctor.
If testicular cancer is suspected by your consulting doctor, several tests may be implemented before a diagnosis is given. These tests include biopsies, ultrasounds, blood tests and PET, CT and MRI scans.
With self-tests, teens and men are essentially feeling for any abnormality in their testes, including – most especially – lumps and swelling. Knowing their own anatomy is paramount, so it’s a good idea for teens and men (of all ages) to familiarise themselves with their testicles.
- The preferred time for self-examination is after a warm bath or shower. This ensures that the tests haven’t ascended to regulate their temperature
- Examine each testicle separately
- Use both hands to roll the testicle gently between the thumbs and fingers
- Feel for lumps, nodules, swelling or any other change in the testicles