Testicular cancer

Testicular cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the testicles of the male reproductive system.

The testicles are two glands responsible for producing male sex hormones and sperm. Testicular cancer occurs when there are abnormal cellular changes in one or both of the testicles.

The Cancer Assocation of South Africa (CANSA) cites the lifetime risk for testicular cancer in men in South Africa as one in 1 959. Testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers.

While testicular cancer causes remain unknown, risk factors include:

  • Having undescended testes
  • Age (roughly 90 percent of cases occur in men between 20 and 54)
  • A family history of testicular cancer
  • Race (CANSA says white men are about five times more likely to develop the disease)
  • HIV infection.

What are its symptoms?

Testicular cancer symptoms include:

  • A lump or swelling in the testes. These lumps are often painless and, according to CANSA, can be as small as a grain of rice
  • Feelings of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull, aching pain in the abdomen or scrotum
  • Breast tenderness or enlargement (a result of hormonal effects)
  • Loss of libido (depending on the testicular cell type affected)
  • Consistency changes to a testicle.

While these symptoms can also be caused by injury or infection, it is important to see your healthcare provider if they persist for longer than two weeks.

How is it diagnosed?

A testicular cancer diagnosis involves determining whether the lump, usually discovered by the patient by accident or by a doctor in a routine examination, is cancerous or not. This may involve an ultrasound of the scrotum and testicles to determine the nature of the lump.

Blood tests can also be used to look for tumour markers specific to testicular cancer in the bloodstream.

If the doctor suspects cancer, a procedure called an inguinal orchidectomy, which is the removal of the entire testicle, may be performed. Biopsies are not advised because they risk the cancer cells escaping in the scrotum.

What are your treatment options?

Testicular cancer treatment depends largely on the specific type of testicular cancer present and how advanced it is (whether it is confined to the testicle or has spread to other parts of the body). The three common treatment routes are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Surgery will remove the affected testicle and, if necessary, nearby lymph nodes, while radiation and chemotherapy may be used to kill any cancerous cells that have spread outside the testicle.

The prognosis for testicular cancer once treated is good, with the average five-year survival rate at around 95 percent.

Can it be prevented?

While the exact causes of testicular cancer remain unknown, making prevention impossible, early detection is possible by performing regular testicular self-examinations. CANSA suggests that all men aged 15 to 40 examine their testicles on a monthly basis, preferably after a bath or shower, to feel for any tell-tale lumps that could indicate the presence of cancer.

If you do find anything unusual, schedule an appointment with your doctor and remember that testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates of all types of cancer.

For more info
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA)

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in June 2015
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