The testicles are the male sex glands and produce testosterone and sperm. Germ cells within the testicles produce immature sperm that travel through a network of tubules (tiny tubes) and larger tubes into the epididymis (a long coiled tube next to the testicles) where the sperm mature and are stored.

Almost all testicular cancers start in the germ cells. The two main types of testicular germ cell tumors are seminomas and nonseminomas. These 2 types grow and spread differently and are treated differently. Nonseminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas. Seminomas are more sensitive to radiation. A testicular tumor that contains both seminoma and nonseminoma cells is treated as a nonseminoma.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men 20 to 35 years old.

These and other symptoms may be caused by testicular cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • A painless lump or swelling in either testicle.
  • A change in how the testicle feels.
  • A dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin.
  • A sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum.
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.

Tests that examine the testicles and blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose testicular cancer. The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. The testicles will be examined to check for lumps, swelling, or pain. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
  • Serum tumor marker test: A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers.
  • Tumor marker levels are measured before radical inguinal orchiectomy and biopsy, to help diagnose testicular cancer.
  • Radical inguinal orchiectomy and biopsy: A procedure to remove the entire testicle through an incision in the groin. A tissue sample from the testicle is then viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells. 

Different types of treatments are available for patients with testicular cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials.

Surgery

Surgery to remove the testicle (radical inguinal orchiectomy) and some of the lymph nodes may be done at diagnosis and staging. Tumors that have spread to other places in the body may be partly or entirely removed by surgery.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. This is also called observation.

Health history can affect the risk of developing testicular cancer.

Anything that increases the chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor.

Risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Having had an undescended testicle.
  • Having had abnormal development of the testicles.
  • Having a personal history of testicular cancer.
  • Having a family history of testicular cancer (especially in a father or brother).
  • Being white.

Every cancer diagnosis is different, just as every person who is diagnosed with cancer is different. Cancer knows no barriers to race, age, or social group. However there is one thing that each and every person who is diagnosed with cancer will have in common: help with fighting and beating the disease.

Life after being diagnosed with cancer will be different for everyone. Some people will have minimal disease and it will be a short chapter of their lives, while others will have a diagnosis that will change the course of the rest of their lives. Cancer diagnoses can change relationships, your routines, your work and home life. One thing is certain, no one person’s experience will be exactly the same. There are however, plenty of resources to learn about what life was like for other people, and what they did to achieve balance, maintain their health and personal life, keep peace of mind, and enjoy their lives with or after cancer.

Clinical Trials

The search for a cure for cancer is an ongoing, constant battle. Clinical trials are the basis upon which new treatments and medications are proven to help the fight against cancer, or if researchers should pursue another tactic. The advancement of medicine depends on willing and able cancer patients to volunteer for experimental treatments so that future generations will have proven and effective cures. Not every patient with cancer will be eligible for a clinical trial, as the scientific method needs specific patients with specific types of cancers. However, patients who are selected for trials may benefit from being at the cutting edge of new research, and gain time they otherwise might not have had.

The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health has a comprehensive database of over 10,000 ongoing clinical trials that both help advance medicine and help patients.

Financial Help

Unfortunately, cancer treatment can be costly, even if a patient has very comprehensive health insurance. For patients who do not have health insurance, the cost of treatment may seem insurmountable. Fortunately many pharmaceutical companies offer cost assistance to help make treatment more affordable. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has compiled a Virtual Reimbursement Room where patients can find information for accessing financial help with their treatment costs.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Life after being diagnosed with cancer will be different for everyone. Some people will have minimal disease and it will be a short chapter of their lives, while others will have a diagnosis that will change the course of the rest of their lives. Cancer diagnoses can change relationships, your routines, your work and home life. One thing is certain, no one person’s experience will be exactly the same. There are however, plenty of resources to learn about what life was like for other people, and what they did to achieve balance, maintain their health and personal life, keep peace of mind, and enjoy their lives with or after cancer.

Your experience with cancer will depend on the type of cancer you have, your choices of treatment and the lifestyle you lead. Be sure to speak with your Doctor about the side effects of your disease and the treatments you choose. Your Doctor will be able to consult with you on realistic lifestyle expectations. 

Review Date: 
March 29, 2012
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