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Testicular Cancer - What Is Testicular Cancer?

Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention of Testicular Cancer

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Updated November 23, 2011

Testicular cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the testicle(s) of men. It is considered to be uncommon, with about 8,000 men diagnosed each year. The good news is that this type of cancer is highly treatable and curable.

Causes and Risk Factors of Testicular Cancer

Although researchers cannot pinpoint exactly what causes testicular cancer, they have identified several known risk factors for the disease. A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood that you may develop a disease, but is not a guarantee you will get it. Risk factors include:
  • having had an undescended testicle, although if this is corrected early in life, the risk is reduced
  • having had abnormal development of the testicles
  • having a personal or family history of testicular cancer
  • being diagnosed with Klinefelter's syndrome
  • being infected with HIV
  • being Caucasian

Testicular Cancer Symptoms

Common symptoms of testicular cancer include:
  • painless lump in the testicle or both testicles; less commonly, the lump will cause pain
  • heaviness, or feeling of swelling in the scrotum
  • discomfort or pain in the scrotum
  • ache in lower back, pelvis or groin area
  • collection of fluid in the scrotum

Other conditions that have similar symptoms include a hydrocele, spermatocele, varicocele, and inguinal hernia.

Diagnosis of Testicular Cancer

There is currently not a standard testicular cancer screening test, so the onset of symptoms or findings from a testicular self exam are what normally begins the diagnostic process. If testicular cancer is suspected, further tests are necessary to make a diagnosis.

A physical exam is the first step in diagnosing testicular cancer. Your doctor will check your scrotum and feel the testicles for lumps, swelling, or tenderness. He may also check your abdomen for lymph node swelling.

Abnormal findings may lead to an ultrasound, which will give the doctor an internal view of testicular lumps. An ultrasound may be able to differentiate between a cancerous and benign condition. Blood tests may also be ordered to check for specific enzyme and protein levels in the blood. The presence and elevation of these proteins and enzymes can indicate a testicular tumor.

Diagnostic surgery to remove and biopsy the abnormal tissue is necessary to make a definitive diagnosis. In this procedure the tumor and the testicle are removed. The abnormal tissue is sent to the pathology lab, where it is examined under a microscope to screened for cancer.

If cancer is found, the stage of the disease is then determined. Staging refers to how far the cancer has spread to nearby tissue or possibly organs. If advanced testicular cancer is suspected, further evaluation, like imaging tests, may be necessary to determine the stage. Treatment options for testicular cancer vary based on the type and stage of the disease.

Treatment of Testicular Cancer

The primary methods of treating testicular cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The type of testicular cancer, stage, and general health are factors that decide what treatment will be most effective.

Surgery. Removal of the testicle is a method of treatment for all stages of testicular cancer. For some men, surrounding lymph nodes may also be removed.
Radiation Therapy. Radiation therapy is also an option for treating testicular cancer. This type of treatment uses certain types high energy beams of radiation to shrink tumors or eliminate cancer cells. Radiation therapy works by damaging a cancer cell's DNA, making it unable to multiply. Although radiation therapy can damage nearby healthy cells, cancer cells are highly sensitive to radiation and typically die when treated. Healthy cells that are damaged during radiation are resilient and are often able to fully recover.

In cases of testicular cancer, external beam radiation therapy is often given after surgery to ensure all cancer cells and tissues that could not have been seen or removed is eliminated.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is often used to treat testicular cancer that has spread beyond the testicle. Cancer is a result of cells that continue to multiply unnecessarily. Chemotherapy drugs work by eliminating these rapidly multiplying renegade cells. Other healthy cells multiply just as quickly, like hair follicle cells. Unfortunately, many chemotherapy drugs may not be able to discern the two, attacking healthy cells and causing side effects like hair loss.

Prevention of Testicular Cancer

Unfortunately, testicular cancer is a type of cancer that can't easily be prevented. There are simply no proven prevention methods.

With most cancers, the best method of prevention is to avoid the risk factors. There is no way to avoid the risk factors for testicular cancer because most are out of the person's control, like age, race, and conditions occurring at birth.

Sources:

"Do I Have Testicular Cancer?". Early Detection and Prevention. American Cancer Society. 02 Dec 2008. Accessed 19 June 2008.
http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_2_3X_Do_I_Have_Testicular_Cancer.asp

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