Testicular cancer may be rare, but it is the most common cancer in men aged 15 to 40. April celebrates Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, so read on to find out more about it.
What is it?
Testicular cancer affects the testicles (or testes) in men, which are two glands that produce sex hormones (like testosterone) and sperm. When testicular cells mutate, or grow abnormally, a tumour may be formed, and a cancer begins to grow. However, testicular cancer is very treatable and has a low mortality rate when diagnosed early.
Germ cell testicular cancer comprises over 95% of cases, and is split into two types. Germ cells are the cells in the testes that produce sperm.
- Seminomas are the most common type of this cancer, making up 40-45% of total testicular cancer cases. The cancer is made up of one type of cell, and is more sensitive to radiation. If discovered early, the survival rate is more than 90%.
- Non-seminomas make up most of the rest of the cases, and include carcinomas and yolk sac tumours. The cancer is generally made up of multiple cell types.
Both types respond well to treatment. Rarer types, making up less than 5% of cases, include Leydig cell tumours and Sertoli cell tumours. Testicular cancer, overall, usually affects one testicle, but can rarely be present in both.
What causes it?
Doctors aren’t sure of what exactly causes the cancer to develop, but some factors show correlation to the risk of developing the disease. Unfortunately, they are unavoidable factors, but they include:
- Family history. If other men in your family have a history of testicular (or other) cancer, you may be at a higher risk of developing the disease.
- Age. This cancer generally affects those between 15 and 40, though other men may still be at risk.
- Race. Testicular cancer is more common in white men than in other races.
- Cryptorchidism. Also known as an undescended testicle, the abnormality of the testes can increase chances of cancer.
If you think you may be at higher risk of developing testicular cancer, talk to your doctor about being early screenings.
What are the symptoms?
The biggest sign of testicular cancer is an abnormality in the testicles. Doctors may recommend you do regular self-examinations to check for any changes in shape or size in the testes, which could be a detector of preliminary cancer. There may be other symptoms present, such as:
- Lumps in the testicles
- A heavy sensation in the scrotum or testicles
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen, testicles, or scrotum
- Lower back pain
If you notice multiple of these symptoms, inform your doctor. Many men do not report their symptoms early, allowing the cancer to progress. The earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.
How can I get diagnosed?
The first step may be a monthly self-examination. If you notice any lumps and let your doctor know, they are likely to carry out further tests. If you are at a higher risk of developing the cancer, your doctor may carry out diagnostic tests on a regular basis.
A testicular ultrasound uses ultrasound scanning to observe lumps in the scrotum and tests. They may not determine whether the lumps are cancerous, or the type of cancer, but they let the doctor know more of the lump’s nature and location.
A blood test can check hormone levels in the blood. Testicular cancer can cause a spike in the production of certain hormones, including AFP and LDH. These hormones are often known as tumour markers.
If cancer is determined in one testicle, and determined to have spread elsewhere, the doctor may remove a testicle via surgery and observe the cancerous cells to gain more information on the type of cancer and its stage. Scans like CT scans can also help with staging.
Stages indicate the severity and spread of the cancer. Stage 0 testicular cancer is not malignant, but indicates that the tumour could grow into a cancer. Stage I is a localised cancer, remaining in the testicles, stage II indicates spread to the lymph nodes, and stage III indicates spread to the rest of the body. All these stages are treatable, but the earlier stages are easier to cure and less likely to recur.
What treatments are available?
Your treatment plan will be put together by your healthcare team, and will be individualised based on your age, health, and cancer stage.
Surgery may be a viable option, especially if the cancer is in an early stage. Localised cancer may be able to be removed by radical inguinal orchiectomy, a surgery to remove a testicle. This is one of the more common methods of treatment. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, retroperitoneal lymph node dissection is a surgery that removes nearby lymph nodes in the abdomen.
If you are not suited to surgery, or the cancer is more advanced, combination therapies are also an option. Radiotherapy uses targeted beams of high-energy radiation to kill cancerous cells, and can be paired with chemotherapy. This is a treatment method that uses chemicals ingested (through injection or pills) which target tumorous cells.
Some of these treatments may come with side effects, such as nerve damage (during lymph node surgery) which may affect your ejaculation. Surgical removal of both testicles may make it impossible to ejaculate. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the complications you may face so you’re prepared for them.
Your doctor will also likely use surveillance methods even after treatment to check for recurrence. Having had testicular cancer already increases your risk of it returning, and if this recurrence is monitored, it can be treated early.
Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable cancers, so make sure to keep monitoring yourself for any symptoms, and report them to a doctor as early as possible. Share information with others, too, to raise awareness on this cancer.
If you have been diagnosed, or are in the process of treatment, make sure to stay connected with friends and family who can help you through tough times. Stay in close contact with your healthcare team and talk to them about what’s right for you. You can find more information about diagnosis and treatment at www.cancerx.co.in.
Wear a purple ribbon this month to show your support for testicular cancer patients and survivors. Read more and learn more, and share more information with others.
Get an expert opinion on your cancer diagnosis now! Visit www.cancerx.co.in/medical_query/.