What is testicular cancer? How to spot symptoms and signs and what treatment there is

It's a worrying fact, but despite this, less than a third of men check their balls for cancer. Here's what you need to know, to keep yourself safe…

What is testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer is normally characterised by a lump or swelling on one of your testicles, the male sex organs which produce sperm and testosterone.

Bucking the trend, testicle tumours are more likely to strike blokes aged 15-49 than those over 50.

In the UK, around 2,200 men are diagnosed each year.

This equates to just one per cent of all male cancer, although cases of testicular cancer have DOUBLED since the mid-70s.

There are several different types of testicular cancer:

  • Germ cell cancer: which occurs in the sperm-production cells (95% of cases)
  • Lymphoma: cancer of the lymph nodes (4% of cases)
  • Leydig cell tumours: which occur in the testosterone-production cells (1-3% of cases)
  • Sertoli cell tumours: which occur in the sperm-production cells (1% of cases)

What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?

The most common sign is a lump or swelling on one of your testicles, which is normally about the size of a pea.

Not all testicular lumps are cancerous, while only four per cent of scrotal lumps are, but you should still always get your GP to take a look.

Here are the signs to look out for:

  • A lump or swelling in the testicle
  • A heavy scrotum
  • A dull ache or sharp pain in the testicles and scrotum
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A difference in the texture or increase in firmness of the testicle
  • A difference between one testicle and the other

Read more about the eight main signs and symptoms of testicular cancer here.

How do you check your testicles?

First it's important to know what feels normal.

It's a good idea to have a hot shower before checking them, then gently roll your testicle between your thumb and finger.

Then repeat for the other testicle.

Repeat this every week so you get a feel for their shape and size.

What causes testicular cancer?

The exact causes are unknown, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk factor…

  • Undescended testicles: When a baby boy is born with his balls inside his testicles – and they don't descend by the time they turn one – this person is three times more likely to develop testicular cancer.
  • Family history: If your dad had testicular cancer, you're four times more likely to develop it, while you're eight times more likely to develop testicular cancer if your brother had it.
  • Previous testicular cancer: Men who have already survived testicular cancer are four to 12 times more likely to get it in the other testicle.
  • Ethnicity: White men have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer than other ethnic groups.

How is testicular cancer treated?

If you, a friend or family member have been diagnosed with testicular cancer – you will be pleased to know it's one of the most treatable types of cancer in the UK.

In the UK, 99 per cent of men survive for a year or more after being diagnosed, while 98 per cent survive for five or more years.

Almost all men treated for the most common form, germ cell cancer, survive.

Treatment tends to involve the surgical removal of the affected testicle, but this can be replaced with a prosthetic one.

If both testicles are removed, you will be left infertile – but some men can bank their sperm before this happens.

After surgery chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy is used to treat testicular cancer if further treatment is required.

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