Last week, I posted a brief blog about prostate cancer. One of our Facebook fans pointed out that if a man lives long enough, he will get prostate cancer. She noted that a more concerning cancer is testicular cancer, a condition that affects men at a much younger age when perhaps they are unsuspecting of serious medical problems. The reader is right on the mark. Did you know that testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 20 and 35? I certainly didn’t.
Testicular cancer is carcinoma of one or both testicles. It is a disease process whereby malignant or cancerous cells invade the healthy tissue of the testicle. The testicles are a set of glands, which produce and store sperm. These gland are a primary source of testosterone in men, a hormone that triggers the development of the male reproductive system as well as other male characteristics (e.g., facial hair).
Here are some other noteworthy facts about testicular cancer that men should know about:
- There are about 7,500 new cases yearly, with approximately 350 deaths per year in the US.
- Testicular cancer is more common in white men than black or Asian.
- Although it accounts for only about 1 percent of all cancers in men, it is the number one cancer killer among men in their 20′s and 30′s.
- Most testicular cancers are self-discovered by patients as a painless or uncomfortable lump in the testicle. About 1-3% of testicular neoplasms are bilateral.
- Pure seminomas constitute roughly 40% of all testicular cancer cases. Forty percent of the testicular cancers have mixture of histology.
- The cancer risk for boys with a history of undescended testicles is about 10-40 times higher than normal individuals. The risk of developing the disease was estimated at 1 out of 20 for a testis retained in the abdomen and 1 out of 80 if it was within the inguinal canal. The risk remains elevated after surgical correction. Both testis are at higher risk, not just the undescended one.
- If found early, testicular cancer is almost always curable.
- Early stage testicular cancer can be treated with surgery and radiation therapy. Late stage testicular cancer can be treated with the combination of surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
- The prognosis for men with testicular cancer is very good, even with late stage disease. The chances of recovery are excellent with surgery and radiotherapy for early stage disease. Combined modality is used for treatment of late stage disease with good results.
- More than 90% of testicular cancer patients are cured by their initial treatment, and many of those who have recurrent disease can also be cured with chemotherapy or radiation.
There are two basic types of testicular cancer: seminomas and nonseminomas. There are additional sub classifications under each type of testicular cancer. Both types can be present at the same time. Seminoma describes a testicular cancer of the germ cell, which is slow-growing. Germ cells are cells that develop into reproductive cells (e.g., sperm and ova). Nonseminoma describes a more rapidly growing/spreading testicular cancer that originates in the germ cells.
Some of the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- A painless lump or swelling in a testicle
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
- Any enlargement of a testicle or change in the way it feels
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- A dull ache in the lower abdomen, back, or groin
- A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
If you have one or more of the risk factors mentioned above and are manifesting signs and symptoms consistent with testicular cancer, talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Don’t ignore your symptoms and don’t wait for them to simply go away. Talk to your doctor about testicular cancer and the various tests, which can be used to rule it out. These generally include: blood tests, ultrasound, and tissue biopsy.
Again, don’t try to run and hide if you have these symptoms. Remember Lance Armstrong, who was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs and brain by the time of his diagnosis.