Testicular cancer is cancer that starts in the testicles, the male reproductive glands located in the scrotum.
Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35. It can occur in older men, and rarely, in younger boys. White men are more likely than African-American and Asian-American men to develop this type of cancer.
The exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown. Factors that may increase a man's risk for testicular cancer include:
- Family history of testicular cancer
- Previous testicular tumor
- Undescended or abnormal testicle development
- Klinefelter syndrome
What you can do to prevent and treat testicular cancer
Even though the exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown, you can still take steps to help prevent or discover testicular cancer early since it's one of the most treatable and curable diseases.
- Perform monthly self exams. Testicular self-examination is an examination of the testicles that should be conducted monthly, especially if you have any of the risk factors above.
- Note any changes since your last self-examination. If you find a small hard lump (like a pea), have an enlarged testicle or notice any other concerning differences from your last self-exam, see your doctor as soon as you can. A lump on the testicle is often the first sign of testicular cancer. Keep in mind that some cases of testicular cancer do not show symptoms until they reach an advanced stage.
- Know your family history. Talk with your family to learn if anyone has had testicular cancer.
Consult your doctor if:
- You can't find one or both testicles – the testicles may not have descended properly in the scrotum
- There is a soft collection of thin tubes above the testicle – it may be a collection of dilated veins (varicocele)
- There is pain or swelling in the scrotum – it may be an infection or a fluid-filled sac (hydrocele), causing blockage of blood flow to the area
- Sudden, severe (acute) pain in the scrotum or testicle is an emergency. If you experience such pain, seek immediate medical attention.
- Discomfort or pain in the testicle, or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- Pain in the back or lower abdomen
- Enlargement of a testicle or a change in the way it feels
- Excess development of breast tissue (gynecomastia), however, this can occur normally in adolescent boys who do not have testicular cancer
- Lump or swelling in either testicle
- Symptoms in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, abdomen, pelvis, back or brain, may also occur if the cancer has spread.
Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable and curable cancers.
The survival rate for men with early-stage seminoma (the least aggressive type of testicular cancer) is greater than 95%. The disease-free survival rate for Stage II and III cancers is slightly lower, depending on the size of the tumor and when treatment has begun.
How to talk to your doctor
Make sure you know your risk factors and follow the tips for early detection. Be sure to see your doctor right away if you notice any symptoms.
Tell your doctor about your risk factors to find out if you should get routine screenings. Though the United States Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend routine screening, if you believe you are at risk, talk to your doctor. This recommendation does not apply if there is a personal history of an undescended testicle.
Einhorn LH. Testicular cancer. In Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 206.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Testicular cancer. 2012. Version 1.2012.
Rew L. Development of the self-efficacy for testicular self-examination scale. J Men's Health Gend. March 2005;2(1):59-63.
Information from your family doctor. Testicular cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(3):613-614.