Testicular cancer is a relatively rare cancer, affecting just one in 100 men in the UK. However, in males aged 15-44, it is nonetheless the most common type of cancer. While getting a diagnosis of testicular cancer is worrying, in most cases, it can be treated effectively, especially if it is diagnosed at an early stage. Here are eight other facts you should know about testicular cancer:
There were around 2,200 new cases of testicular cancer in 2017, a 24% increase since the early 1990s. Rates have been more stable in the last decade but look set to continue going up. In the UK, cases of testicular cancer are highest in the 30-34 age group and are more common in white men than black or Asian men.
Although a painless lump is one of the most common signs of testicular cancer, in most cases, a lump in your genitals is not cancerous. Often, a genital lump is not in your testicle but in the pouch of skin that holds your testicles (scrotum) instead. A lump or swelling is more likely to be caused by an infection or cyst. However, it is still important to get it checked out by your GP and to get treatment if needed.
A painless lump may be the most common symptom of testicular cancer but there are a number of other symptoms to be aware of. Sometimes the lump can feel painful or sore, and the size, shape and position of a lump can vary greatly. It could be as small as a pea or larger. In some cases, the whole testicle will feel swollen or firmer than your other testicle. You may not even notice a lump but will feel a dull ache or sharp pain in your testicle or scrotum that won’t go away. A feeling of heaviness in your scrotum can also be a sign that something is not right. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your GP.
In some cases, testicular cancer can affect both testicles although it more commonly only affects one. This means the cancerous testicle can be removed without affecting your fertility. However, if you have had testicular cancer in one testicle, your risk of developing it in your other testicle in the future is increased.
You can check yourself for lumps by performing a testicular self-examination (TSE). As with most conditions, early diagnosis means a better chance of effective treatment, so checking your testicles regularly is a good idea, especially if you are aged under 44.
A TSE is easy to perform. The best time to do it is after a bath or shower, when your scrotum is warm and relaxed. Stand up to perform the examination and use your fingers to gently examine each testicle. Place your thumb at the top of the testicle and the forefingers on the underside. Roll the testicle between your thumb and fingers, checking for any lumps or swelling. A normal testicle should feel smooth, quite firm and be egg-shaped. It is normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other.
If your GP has examined your testicles and thinks there could be a chance of cancer, they will send you for further tests. An ultrasound scan is usually the first test. This non-invasive scan is used to create a picture of the inside of your testicle to determine the exact size, position and nature of a lump. You may also be given blood tests to detect certain proteins that can be a sign of cancer.
If you do have testicular cancer, the most common treatment is to surgically remove the affected testicle — this surgery is called an orchidectomy. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiotherapy is also needed after surgery to prevent the cancer from returning or to treat other areas if the cancer has spread. You can have a prosthetic testicle put in after your testicle with cancer is removed so that you do not look or feel different.
It is common to feel anxious about having a testicle removed, however, in most cases, fertility is not affected. Also, there is always the option of saving your sperm in a sperm bank for the future if you’re worried about effects on your fertility.
Having a testicle removed will not affect your ability to have a healthy sex life and produce sperm. In rare cases where both testicles need to be removed, testosterone replacement therapy can ensure you’re still able to have erections and maintain your sex drive.
If you find a lump or notice any changes in your testicles make an appointment with your GP to have it checked out as soon as possible.
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