Know the Signs of Testicular Cancer
Talking about testicular cancer can be awkward for many men, but a proactive approach can lead to life-saving treatment for a large percentage of patients.
“There is a lack of knowledge, and also an embarrassment factor, that may prevent men from detecting a small growth and making an appointment to see their primary-care provider,” says Lawrence Jenkins, MD, a urologist and assistant professor and the director of the Men’s Health and Male Fertility Preservation Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
“Testicular cancer is most common in younger men, and they’re often scared and uneasy that a mass is growing in such a sensitive area.”
There will be approximately 9,500 new cases of the disease diagnosed in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society, and more than 90 percent of those men will be successfully treated. To increase their chances of catching testicular cancer early, Jenkins recommends a combo of knowledge, self-examination and timely follow-up with a doctor if symptoms are present.
While the risk of many cancers increase with age, testicular cancer is more common in younger patients.
“It’s most common in men 15 to 35, though there’s another, smaller spike in the mid-50s,” Jenkins says.
Family history can also increase the odds of developing the disease, as can undescended testicles.
“The testicles want to be outside of the body where it’s cooler and they can develop and function properly,” Jenkins says. “If the testicles don’t descend as a baby, the risk of developing cancer cells is significantly higher. That’s why we operate to bring the testicles down before a child is one to two years of age.”
The importance of early detection
While researchers are working to gain a better understanding of testicular cancer’s causes, experts emphasize early detection as the best way to keep the number of successful patient outcomes high.
“If undetected, the first place it will spread to is the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen,” Jenkins says, adding that it can also travel to the lungs and brain.
Men can raise their chances of catching testicular cancer early through self-examination and by learning to spot the signs.
“It’s important to do a monthly self-exam—we recommend doing it while in the shower,” Jenkins says. “This will give you an idea of how the testicles should feel and make it easier to detect a small growth or if one of the testicles feels firmer and more solid.”
Symptoms of testicular cancer include:
- A painless lump or swelling in either testicle
- A change in how the testicle feels
- A dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
- Enlarged or swollen breasts (caused by testicular tumor-secreting hormones)
While the cure rate of testicular cancer is high, some treatments—like chemotherapy and radiation—can have negative effects on patients, including possible fertility issues. That’s why doctors often recommend that patients preserve sperm prior to the start of treatment.
“If a patient is unable to obtain the sample on their own, we have other options, including minor surgery procedures to remove sperm directly from the unaffected testicle,” Jenkins says.
Experts with the Male Fertility Preservation Program are able to perform outpatient and inpatient consultations to help counsel patients on their options, as well as to coordinate the preservation process.
“Many of our patients are uneasy and scared when we first see them because they have something serious going on,” Jenkins says. “I try to reassure them that what they have is highly curable, and I also remind them about the importance of having support from their family members.
“What motivates me is seeing successful outcomes, knowing patients can go on and have children and successful sex lives.”