Understanding testicular cancer

Testicular cancer might sound like a sensitive topic — and not necessarily an easy one to talk about. But there are some facts that might be helpful to know. First, it’s actually quite rare and treatable, according to cancer.org. In fact, a man’s lifetime risk of dying from testicular cancer is about 1 in 5,000.1  You may have a better shot at catching a foul ball at a Major League Baseball game.2  These odds don’t mean you shouldn’t take this seriously. Knowing the signs of testicular cancer, and when to see a doctor can increase your chances for a successful treatment.

Testicular cancer starts in the testes, which is part of the male reproductive system. In an adult male, each testis is usually a little smaller than a golf ball. They sit nestled inside a protective sac of skin called the scrotum. Their main functions are to make hormones (like testosterone) and sperm. There are different types of cells that make up the testes, and any one of those cells could potentially develop cancer. If that happens, the first step is knowing which type (or types) of testicular cancer is there.

What are the types of testicular cancer?

There are a few different kinds of testicular cancer, and more than one can pop up at the same time. To keep things simpler, let's review the two main categories of testicular cancer — germ cell tumors and stromal tumors. If you're interested in taking a closer look, you can take a look at more information on subtypes. A germ cell tumor starts in the cells that make sperm and can be classified as a seminoma or non-seminoma. Here’s what we mean:3, 4

  • Seminoma: This is the most common kind. Seminomas grow slowly and may be effectively treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes, active surveillance (keeping a close eye on it) is used for low-stage, or less aggressive, seminomas.
  • Non-seminoma: This kind of germ cell tumor may grow more quickly and may be less responsive to treatment.

There’s another type of tumor called a stromal tumor. These are rarer, making up less than 5% of cases. They start in the supportive and hormone-producing tissue, or stroma. These tumors are typically either noncancerous or, if cancerous, may be cured with surgery.5

How can I get checked for testicular cancer?

If you think you may have symptoms of testicular cancer, schedule a visit with your primary provider (the doctor or provider you might see for your yearly exam). Your doctor may likely check for lumps at your annual physical. (You should check yourself regularly as well.) If there’s a lump that needs attention, you may end up having an ultrasound or blood test to help identify what it might be. Depending on those results, you may be referred to a specialist, like a urologist or oncologist.11

Footnotes

  1. Key Statistics for Testicular Cancer cancer.org, 2021.
  2. Marlins fan catches two foul balls in same at-bat, becomes hero usatoday.org, 2019.
  3. What is Testicular Cancer? urologyhealth.org, 2021.
  4. Types of Testicular Cancer hopkinsmedicine.org, 2021.
  5. Testicular cancer- Diagnosis and treatment mayoclinic.org, 2020.
  6. Signs and Symptoms of Testicular Cancer cancer.org, 2018.
  7. Testicular cancer- Symptoms and causes mayoclinic.org, 2020.
  8. Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer cancer.org, 2018.
  9. Testicular cancer- Diagnosis and treatment mayoclinic.org, 2020.
  10. Surgery for Testicular Cancer cancer.org, 2018.
  11. Testicular Cancer Treatment cancer.org, 2021.