Dr Caitlin: What You Need To Know About Testicular Cancer

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Dr Caitlin O’Connor of Tralee Medical Centre in St Brendan’s Park on Testicular Cancer…

What is testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both testicles, which causes a lump or tumour.

Cancerous cells can break away from this tumour and form new growths elsewhere in the body. Testicular cancer is most common in men under 35 years and is a treatable and usually curable form of cancer.

What causes testicular cancer?

The cause of testicular cancer is unknown but the disease does seem to occur more frequently in men whose testicles have not descended into the scrotum, a process that should occur before birth or be surgically corrected later.

The cause of testicular cancer is not yet known, but there are certain risk factors associated with developing the disease:

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Age — most testicular cancers occur between the ages of 15 and 40. But, this cancer can affect males of any age, including infants and elderly men.

Undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) — this is the main risk factor for testicular cancer. The testicles normally develop inside the abdomen and descend into the scrotum before birth or in the child’s first year.

In some cases, a surgical procedure known as orchiopexy is necessary to bring the testicle down into the scrotum. If the process does not occur naturally or is not corrected by surgery, the testicle may remain in the abdomen or start to descend but get stuck in the groin area.

Family history — a family history of testicular cancer increases the risk.

Occupational risks — it has been suggested that exposure to certain chemicals used in the mining, oil or leather industries may increase the risk of developing testicular cancer, but this has not been conclusively proven.

HIV infection — men infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be at increased risk.

History of testicle cancer — men who have been cured of cancer in one testicle have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other testicle.

Can testicular cancer be prevented?

The main known risk factors, ie. undescended testicles and a family history of the disease, are unavoidable because they are present at birth and many men with testicular cancer have no known risk factors, so it is not possible to prevent most cases.

What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?

• A lump in the testicle — although it may not be painful, it will cause slight discomfort.

• Enlargement of one testicle after puberty.

• Enlargement of the breasts (occurs with some types of testicular tumours).

If the cancer has spread, you may experience other symptoms, such as:

• Low back pain.

• Difficulty urinating.

• Coughing and breathing problems.

How is testicular cancer diagnosed?

The symptoms of testicular cancer can resemble an infection, but if a course of antibiotics does not resolve the problem, you must visit your doctor again.

Your doctor will examine your testicles and you may be referred for an ultrasound examination of the testis, abdomen or pelvis.

How is testicular cancer treated?

Treatment may include one or more of the following:

• Chemotherapy.

• Radiation therapy.

• Surgery to remove the testicle.

What can I do?

Successful outcome depends on finding the cancer early and treating it before it spreads. It is important to examine your testicles monthly and have regular checkups with your doctor, especially if you have an undescended testicle.

What is the correct method of examining my testicles?

Hold your testicles with one hand and feel each of them with your other hand. You should feel the smooth bump (epididymis) that covers the top, back, and bottom of each testicle.

Gently separate the epididymis from the testicle with your finger and feel the testicle itself. If you find a hard, painless mass in either testicle, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

What is the outlook?

Testicular cancer can be treated and, in most cases, completely cured with surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy if it has not spread to other parts of your body.

Following treatment, you should visit your doctor regularly for at least three years to check whether the cancer has returned. It is important to follow the doctor’s recommendations so that any recurrence can be spotted at an early stage.

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