What are the testicles?
The testicles are the male sex glands and are part of the male reproductive system. Testicles are also called testes or gonads. They are located behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum.
The testicles produce sperm and several male hormones, including testosterone. The hormones control the development of the reproductive organs, as well as other male characteristics - body and facial hair, low voice, and wide shoulders.
What is testicular cancer?
Cancer that develops in a testicle is called testicular cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the year 2010 about 8,480 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. An estimated 350 men will die of testicular cancer in the year 2010.
Testicular cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer.
When testicular cancer spreads, the cancer cells are carried by blood or by lymph, an almost colorless fluid produced by tissues all over the body. The fluid passes through lymph nodes, which filter out bacteria and other abnormal substances such as cancer cells.
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
The following are the most common symptoms for testicular cancer. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently:
- Lump in either testicle
- Enlargement of a testicle
- Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- Dull ache in the lower abdomen or in the groin
- Sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
The symptoms of testicular cancer may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
What causes testicular cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase a person's chance of developing a disease. It may be an activity, such as smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. Different diseases, including cancers, have different risk factors.
Although these factors can increase a person's risk, they do not necessarily cause the disease. Some people with one or more risk factors never develop the disease, while others develop disease and have no known risk factors.
But, knowing your risk factors to any disease can help to guide you into the appropriate actions, including changing behaviors and being clinically monitored for the disease.
The exact cause of testicular cancer is not known. However, there are a number of factors that increase the risk for the disease.
What are the risk factors for testicular cancer?
The exact cause of this disease is unknown. However, research does show that some men are more likely than others to develop testicular cancer. Possible risk factors include the following:
Most testicular cancers occur in men between the ages of 20 and 54.
- Cryptorchidism - undescended testicle(s)
- Family history
- Personal history of cancer in the other testicle
- Race and ethnicity
The rate of testicular cancer is higher in Caucasians than in other populations.
- HIV infection
Can testicular cancer be prevented?
Currently, there is no sure way to prevent the disease because:
- There are few known causes for the disease.
- Many of the suggested risk factors are those that cannot be changed.
- Many men with testicular cancer do not have the suggested risk factors.
However, testicular self-examination can improve the chances of finding a cancerous tumor early. Some doctors recommend doing them monthly, although it is not clear if they can reduce the death rate for testicular cancer.
Testicular Self-Examination (TSE) Procedure
Testicular self examination is not a substitute for routine physical examinations by your physician.
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for testicular cancer may include the following:
- Ultrasound - a diagnostic technique which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image. This test can be used to determine if a lump on a testicle is solid or filled with fluid. (Solid lumps are more likely to be cancerous.)
- Blood tests - assessment of blood samples to check for increased levels of certain proteins and enzymes to determine if cancerous cells are present, or to determine how much cancer is present.
- Biopsy - a procedure in which tissue samples are removed (during surgery) from the body for examination under a microscope to determine if cancer is present.
When testicular tumors are present, the entire tumor, as well as the testicle and spermatic cord, is typically removed to prevent the spread of cancerous cells through the blood and lymph systems.
Staging of testicular cancer:
Staging is the process of determining if and how far the cancer has spread. Treatment options are based on the results of staging. Procedures for determining stage include the following:
- Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
- Lymphangiography - x-ray images of the lymph system in which dye is injected into a lymph vessel to improve images. This test is rarely done, as CT scans can often provide the same information about the lymph nodes.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. It is sometimes used to look for spread of the cancer to the brain.
In addition to these imaging procedures, chest x-rays, positron emission tomography (PET) scans, or other scans may be requested.
Treatment for testicular cancer:
Specific treatment for testicular cancer will be determined by your physician based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Type of testicular cancer
- Extent and location of the disease
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your opinion or preference
There are several kinds of treatments for testicular cancer, including:
- Surgery (to remove the tumor and the testicle, and possibly lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen)
- Radiation therapy (to destroy cancer cells or slow the rate of growth)
- Chemotherapy (drugs are used to destroy cancer cells throughout the body)
- High-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation; removing stem cells from the patient's or a donor's bone marrow and reinfusing them into the patient to help in production of healthy blood cells.