Testicular cancer largely affects men between the ages of 15 and 49 years. Although the incidence of testicular cancer is relatively low on a per-population basis, it is still one of the most commonly found cancers in young men - with an estimated 2,000 diagnoses in the UK every year. So, it is important to know the symptoms and inform your doctor if you notice any changes.
Mr Mark Tuthill is a consultant medical oncologist from Oxford and an expert in cancer treatment. In this article, he explores the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer and explains what type of treatment you will undergo if you’ve recently received a diagnosis.
What causes testicular tumours?
Unlike other forms of cancer, there are no known causes of testicular tumours; however, patients who have a history of undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) and a family history do have a slightly higher risk than patients without. Men who have had previous testicular cancer are at higher risk of developing testicular cancer in the other testicle.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of testicular cancer are a painless swelling, a lump or change in shape or enlargement of a testicle.
In addition, some men will report pain or discomfort either in a testicle or the scrotum, and pain could present in the abdomen or the groin. Occasionally, men might experience breast enlargement and back pain too.
Can testicular cancer spread?
The majority of men that are diagnosed with testicular cancer will have cancer that is localised to the testicles. At the time of diagnosis, your consultant will arrange for a CT scan to be carried out and blood tests (staging tests) to check if it has spread to other parts of the body.
If these tests come back normal, you will be diagnosed with early testicular cancer and will be offered surveillance (regular tests and blood tests to monitor you) or treatments to reduce the chance of recurrence. If there are abnormalities on your staging tests that don’t return to normal post-surgery, you will be offered curative treatment for advanced testicular cancer.
How is it treated and what is the prognosis?
Almost all forms of testicular cancers - also known as germ-cell tumours - carry an excellent prognosis. The main treatment for testicular cancer is surgery to remove the testicle. If the cancer is localised to the testicle, you may be offered additional treatment to reduce the chance of the tumour coming back. This treatment is usually chemotherapy but can also include radiotherapy in selected patients.
Almost all patients with early forms of testicular cancer will be cured with standard surgery and other medical treatments such as radiotherapy - if you were to unfortunately develop a recurrence. Even in patients who have cancer that has spread around the body, cure rates are very high with the use of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Does treatment include side effects?
For men who have a testicle removed, they may require treatments for low testosterone levels. Sexual loss isn’t usually affected and the majority of men will father children without the need for fertility assistance.
The side effects of chemotherapy include fatigue, lethargy, hair loss and others that your consultant will explain in great detail before you start the treatment.
Dr Mark Tuthill is based in Oxford at The Manor Hospital and GenesisCare Oxford. Visit his Top Doctors profile to check his availability and read all his latest medical articles for up-to-date cancer treatment advice.