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 five-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.
Above: To be precise, the seminiferous tubules, the thread-like structures in the testis (here coloured in dark green), contain germ cells – these cells are responsible for producing sperm. Region K indicates the epididymis where sperm are stored.
(Animation courtesy of KDS444 @Wikipedia.org)
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 between their late teens and early 30s.
Gonadal stromal tumours, originating in the hormone-producing and supportive tissues of the testicles (known as the stroma), are not germ cell tumours, but account for up to 20% of childhood testicular tumours.
Above: A seminoma of the testis – removed by surgery (called a radical orchiectomy). A seminoma is one of the two types of germ cell tumours. (Image courtesy of Ed Uthman, MD @Wikipedia.org)
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 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 the cancer spreading to lymph nodes
- Changes in the voice and facial and body hair in young boys
- An enlargement of the breast tissue
If the 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 testes haven’t ascended to regulate their temperature
- Examine each testicle separately
- Use both hands to roll the testicle gently between the thumb and fingers
- Feel for lumps, nodules, swelling or any other change in the testicles
Awareness of testicular cancer, as with all cancers, is one of the first steps to early detection and timely treatment. Help spread the news about testicular cancer by joining the 2019 Hollard Daredevil Run on the 15th of March. Learn everything you need to know about the run here.
While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.