What is testicular cancer?
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer develops in one or both testicles. Generally, cancer starts in the cells that develop into sperm. These are called germ cells.
The testicles, or testes, are part of the male reproductive system. They produce and store sperm, as well as make the hormone testosterone.
Types of testicular cancer
Most testicular cancers are germ cell tumours1. These fall into two categories:
- Seminomas These usually occur in men aged between 25 and 45 and develop slowly.
- Non-seminomas These are more common in younger men and can grow more quickly.
Symptoms of testicular cancer
Testicular cancer often has minimal symptoms. However, symptoms may include:
- a lump or swelling in the testicles, which is usually painless
- change in size or shape in the testicles
- a heavy or uneven feeling in the scrotum
- aching in a testicle, back or abdomen
- back pain
Having any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have testicular cancer, but you should see your doctor for a check-up.
What causes testicular cancer?
There is no clear reason for testicular cancer. However, some factors appear to increase the risk. These include:
- family history of testicular cancer2
- an undescended testicle at birth3
- HIV or AIDS, although this link is weak5
Having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop testicular cancer, but you should see your GP if you are worried. It’s been proven that there’s no link between testicular cancer and sporting injuries or physical activity6.
Diagnosing testicular cancer
Your GP will probably refer you to a specialist if they are concerned about your symptoms and risk factors for testicular cancer. However, they will usually first examine your testicles and scrotum for any swelling or lumps. Other tests to diagnose testicular cancer may include:
- Ultrasound – This scan is done by moving a transducer wand over the scrotum. The scan can differentiate between a tumour and a fluid-filled cyst
- Blood tests – Blood tests can test for proteins made by testicular cancer
- CT or MRI scan – These can take cross-section images to show if cancer is present
If you are found to have testicular cancer, your doctor will give you details about how far your cancer has progressed.
Testicular cancer is commonly staged with the TNM system, which shows how advanced the cancer is. These letters stand for:
- Tumour: Your doctors will measure the size of the tumour and how much it has grown
- Nodes: Refers to whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes
- Metastasis: Refers to whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body
Treatments for testicular cancer
Treatment for testicular cancer will depend on how advanced the cancer is, the size of the tumour, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your fertility options before you start treatment. Depending on your treatment, you will be given an option to store your sperm.
Treatments that may be offered include:
- radiation therapy
Chemotherapy can involve a single drug or a combination of drugs. These drugs are often injected directly into a vein, although your doctor may prescribe oral medication. In testicular cancer, chemotherapy may be used if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. It might also be used after surgery to help prevent the cancer from returning.
Radiation therapy uses X-rays to damage or kill cancer cells and is directed at specific areas of the body. In testicular cancer, it is often used after surgery to prevent the cancer from returning or to target cancer cells that have spread.
This is the most common option for testicular cancer. In most cases, the surgeon will remove the whole testicle. This procedure is called an orchidectomy. In rare cases, part of the testicle is removed. This is called a partial orchidectomy. If the cancer is only in the testicle, surgery may be the only procedure needed. These procedures shouldn’t affect your fertility if performed on one testicle, or your ability to get an erection. Sometimes it’s necessary to have surgery to remove lymph nodes that have been affected by testicular cancer that has spread. These are usually at the back of your abdomen.
Your treatment with GenesisCare
Your treatment with GenesisCare
We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be emotional and life-changing. It’s natural to feel disbelief, anxiety, sadness, anger and loneliness. At GenesisCare, we strive to strengthen your confidence, settle your emotions and create care experiences that give you the best possible outcomes.
Our care team will know your name and get to know who you are as a person. We don’t want you to feel alone when you’re with GenesisCare. Your nursing team and oncology team are here to support you before, during and after your cancer treatment. We are here to guide you and help you access support from experts such as psychologists, exercise physiologists, physiotherapists and dietitians.
Please contact your local GenesisCare centre for more details on the services available. View a list of our centres here.
Side effects of chemotherapy for testicular cancer
Whether you experience side effects and how severe they are, depends on the type and dose of chemotherapy treatment you are given and your reaction from one treatment cycle to the next. Most side effects are short-term and can be managed. These may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- constipation or diarrhoea
- hair loss
- temporary loss of libido
- temporary loss of erection
- lower sperm production
These symptoms tend to improve gradually once treatment stops. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel upset or anxious about how long treatment is taking or the impact of side effects.
What can I do to help my chemotherapy treatment go smoothly?
- Get as much rest as possible
- Aim for a wholefood, varied diet, but we also encourage you to eat foods that interest you rather than what you think you should eat
- Appetite changes are common, and you may experience taste changes or nausea. Help manage this by eating small, frequent snacks and avoiding smells that make you nauseous
- Drink lots of water
- Reach out to support groups and others who have had chemotherapy
- Record your side effects in a diary or journal
- Take some gentle exercise, such as walking, if you feel up to it. Light to moderate exercise can reduce treatment-related fatigue and improve your mood. Plan your exercise for times in the day when you know you have more energy
- It is important to acknowledge when you are fatigued and rest when you need to
- Ask for and accept help from family, friends and neighbours
- Be open with employers about your treatment and discuss flexible working options if you need them
Side effects of radiation therapy for testicular cancer
Side effects may include:
- soreness and swelling around the treatment area
- tiredness and lethargy for a few weeks after you finish
- nausea or bloating
- bladder irritation or infection
- temporary or permanent infertility
- radiation therapy has a small risk of causing a cancer, sometimes many years after the initial cancer treatment. Your radiation oncologist will talk to you about these risks
Side effects of surgery for testicular cancer
General side effects of testicular surgery include:
- pain and swelling
- inability to have sex for 2-4 weeks
- inability to drive for 2-4 weeks
If you have had lymph node surgery, side effects may include:
- inability to ejaculate
- retrograde ejaculation, where your sperm goes into your bladder and is mixed in with your urine. This can affect natural fertility
Other information, resources and support services are available to assist you during your cancer journey. These include:
Cancer Council Australia
13 11 20
Australian Cancer Research Foundation
02 9223 7833
- Testicular cancer: germ cell tumours. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4704678/
- Risk of cancer in first- and second-degree relatives of testicular germ cell tumor cases and controls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2605179/
- Age at Surgery for Undescended Testis and Risk of Testicular Cancer. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa067588#:~:text=Cryptorchidism%20is%20associated%20with%20impaired,have%20a%20history%20of%20cryptorchidism.
- Increased Risk of Testicular Germ Cell Cancer Among Infertile Men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2881689/
- Testicular tumors in men with human immunodeficiency virus. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1552581/
Radiation therapy may be offered in the early stages of cancer treatment, or after it has started to spread. There are different radiation therapy techniques which may be suitable for different cancer types at different stages.
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