Over the past several decades, the rate of testicular cancer has increased in the United States, with the American Cancer Society estimating roughly 9,470 new cases diagnosed in 2021. That means one out of every 250 men will get it during his lifetime. The cause of these rising numbers is unknown and could be due to multiple factors, but it is unfortunately expected to continue across the United States and Europe.
Testicular cancer is known for being a disease of the young and middle-aged, but it can affect men throughout all stages of life. It originates from reproductive or “germ cells” in the normal testicular tissue and can develop into solid tumors a person can feel. Testicular cancer most commonly spreads to the lymph nodes, but can go to other organs as well.
“The average age of diagnosis is the early 30s for most men, but it can affect men of all age groups,” said Barrett McCormick, MD, urologic oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. “You can see peaks in diagnoses in the early 20s or late 30s, but other types can be present in men in their 60s or even in kids and teens.”
Testicular cancer has one of the highest rates of survival of all cancers, but the implications for fertility depend on the type of therapy a person receives.
Triple bogey treatment
The type of treatment a patient receives depends on what stage and type of testicular cancer he is diagnosed with. The three main options are:
Typically, the first step is to surgically remove the testicle. If this is the only treatment required, fertility and testosterone production should not be affected, but it is important for the patient to discuss this with his physician.
In some cases, patients will also need radiation or chemotherapy. These additional treatments to lower the chance of recurrence may affect fertility and sexual function, so it's important for patients and their partners to discuss this with their physician.
“When we have patients who are facing this possibility, one of the big components is talking about their goals in terms of fertility and options to achieve them," said Dr. McCormick. “This includes sperm banking, which involves men supplying samples to be saved and frozen for future reproductive purposes."
Bunker down and self-check
Fortunately, testicular cancer is usually easy to identify during a self-exam, which men should perform monthly.
“That’s when they should take note of anything they might be concerned about,” said Dr. McCormick.
It is best to perform one of these self-exams after a hot shower because the muscles and skin are relaxed. Warning signs of testicular cancer include:
- Lump or swelling in the testicle
- Heavy feeling in the scrotum
- Pain in the testicle or scrotum
If you detect one of these signs during a self-exam, you should seek the opinion of a urologist as soon as possible, who will recommend further evaluation.
In addition to self-exams, it is important for men to be aware of risk factors for testicular cancer, inlcuding:
- An undescended testicle
- Family history
- Personal history
- Body size
- HIV infection
- Carcinoma in situ (CIS) of the testicle
Though early detection is key, physicians often see a delay in care after a person finds a lump.
“It’s normal for patients to have a certain amount of fear or concern that hinders them from going to the doctor, myself included,” said Dr. McCormick. “But it’s important to not let that stop you from receiving potentially life-saving care.”
While testicular cancer can be treated and cured, there is nothing that has been identified as a preventive approach. The most well-established risk factors are family history as well as a history of undescended testicles. Men who have had cancer in one testicle are at an increased risk for developing it in the other testicle.
“Unfortunately, there is not a lot that can be done to prevent this type of cancer,” said Dr. McCormick. “It’s really just being vigilant and trying to catch it at the earliest stage possible, and we can be proactive by encouraging men to do those self-checks.”
Hole-in-one for men's health
Dr. McCormick and other urologists encourage patients to be open about their health problems with their providers.
“We are a resource for them, and we can get them through any problem they may be having,” he said. “These are issues we deal with all the time, and we emphasize to our patients that they aren’t alone.”
To learn more about men's sexual health and wellness, listen to this podcast interview with Lael Stieglitz, MD,, urologist, at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
It’s important to speak up about health issues, especially concerns regarding testicular cancer. If you or a loved one is experiencing the warning signs associated with testicular cancer, please reach out to Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center today to schedule an appointment with one of our providers. For more information, call 1.844.632.2278.