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For all cases of testicular cancer regardless of stage, the first treatment is usually to surgically remove the affected testicle.
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer. It tends to only affect men between the ages of 15 and 49.
Your testicles are two small oval shaped organs that hang underneath your penis in a sac of skin called the scrotum.
Testicles are part of the male reproductive system. From puberty, your testicles produce sperm, which can fertilise the female egg. This makes your testicles a crucial part of the reproductive cycle.
The most common type is known as germ cell testicular cancer, which accounts for around 95% of all cases. Germ cells are a type of cell within your testicles that help to create sperm.
There are two main subtypes of germ cell testicular cancer. These are:
Seminomas and non-seminomas often respond well to chemotherapy.
The causes of testicular cancer aren’t known, but there a number of factors that can increase your risk of having it. These include:
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a lump felt in your testicle, but there are other symptoms of testicular cancer, which include:
If testicular cancer is advanced and has spread to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body, some of the following symptoms may be felt:
Testicular cancer can be easier to treat if it’s found early. This is why it’s important to check your testicles at least once per month for anything unusual, like a lump or swelling.
By checking your testicles regularly, you get to know what feels normal for you. The best time to check your testicles is during or after a warm bath or shower, when the scrotum is soft and relaxed. Cup your scrotum gently in the palm of your hand, and carefully use your fingers and thumb to feel each testicle for lumps, anything unusual, or differences between your testicles.
A normal testicle should feel smooth and firm, but not hard. Remember that it’s normal for the testicles to be slightly different in size and for one testicle to hang lower than the other.
If you feel anything unusual, it’s important that you get it checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosing testicular cancer
It’s important to know that most testicular lumps are not cancerous, but you must have the lump checked. This is because any treatment for testicular cancer is much more effective when it’s started earlier.
As well as asking about your symptoms, your GP will carry out a physical examination of your testicles. If your GP suspects the lump in your testicle may be cancerous, you will be referred for one or some of the following tests:
A scrotal ultrasound scan is a painless procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to see inside your testicle. It is one of the main ways your health professional can tell whether or not the lump is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).
To confirm any diagnosis, you might need a series of blood tests to detect certain hormones in your blood, known as 'markers'. Testicular cancer often produces these markers, so having them in your blood may be an indication that you have the disease.
To confirm a case of testicular cancer, you’re likely to require a biopsy of the tumour, so that cells can be examined in a laboratory to determine whether or not the tumour is cancerous.
For most cases, the only way to safely take a biopsy is to remove the affected testicle completely. This is because specialists consider the risk of the cancer spreading to be too high for a conventional biopsy.
If your specialist feels it necessary, you might need more tests to see if testicular cancer has spread. If cancer of the testicle spreads, it commonly affects the lymph nodes and lungs, so you may require a chest X-ray to check for signs of a tumour.
Stages of testicular cancer
After your tests, your doctor or consultant will tell you what stage your testicular cancer is at. This describes the size of your tumour and how far it’s spread, and will influence the type of testicular cancer treatment you’re offered.
There are four stages of testicular cancer:
If you are diagnosed with testicular cancer, the treatment plan you are recommended will depend on two factors:
Regardless of the stage, for all cases of testicular cancer, the first treatment is usually to surgically remove the affected testicle (this is called an orchidectomy). An artificial testicle (called a prosthesis) can be inserted at the time of orchidectomy – your specialist will discuss this with you.
In stage one non-seminomas, close follow-up (called surveillance) is recommended, or a short course of chemotherapy, depending on the risk of recurrence.
In stage one seminomas, after the testicle has been removed, a single dose of chemotherapy is usually given to help prevent the cancer returning, and sometimes a short course of radiotherapy is recommended. Increasingly stage one seminomas are also being managed with surveillance.
In stage two and three cancers, three to four cycles of chemotherapy may be needed, also further surgery to remove any affected lymph nodes.
To treat stage four cancer, additional surgery may also be required after chemotherapy to remove tumours from other parts of the body, depending how far the tumour has spread.
Even if testicular cancer recurs it can often be very successfully treated.
Paying for your treatment
You have two options to pay for treatment. Your costs may be covered by your private medical insurance, or you can pay for yourself. Check with your private medical insurer to see if your diagnostic costs are covered under your medical insurance policy. If you are paying for your own treatment, the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book your operation.
Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes all of your Consultants’ fees and hospital charges for your diagnostics and procedure.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to read more about testicular cancer, treatment or living with testicular cancer, please visit cancerresearchuk.org.uk.
Need to speak to a Consultant about your testicular health? Call us on: 080 101 0337, or make an online enquiry.