By: Kathy Hubbard
Before I say anything else about testicular cancer, I want to say that it’s highly treatable, even when it’s metastasized. I also want to say it’s not the most common type of cancer.
However, knowing the signs and symptoms and discussing them with your healthcare provider are key to making what I just said a true story.
Mayo Clinic describes testicular cancer as a growth that originates in the testicles. “The testicles, which are also called testes, are in the scrotum. The scrotum is a loose bag of skin underneath the penis. The testicles make sperm and the hormone testosterone.” You remember testosterone from last week’s column.
Testicular cancer can happen at any age but occurs most often in males between the ages of fifteen and forty-five. Mayo says that the cause of most testicular cancers is unknown.
“Testicular cancer starts when something causes changes to the DNA of testicle cells. A cell’s DNA holds the instructions that tell the cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow and multiply quickly. The cancer cells go on living when healthy cells would die as part of their natural life cycle. This causes a lot of extra cells in the testicle that can form a mass called a tumor,” they explain.
This tumor can grow beyond the testicle, and some cells can break off and spread to other parts of the body. Most often, testicular cancer cells spread to the lymph nodes, liver, and lungs.
“Nearly all testicular cancers begin in the germ cells. The germ cells in the testicle make sperm. It’s not clear what causes DNA changes in the germ cells,” Mayo says.
Mayo lists the signs and symptoms as a lump or swelling in either testicle; a feeling of heaviness or sudden swelling in the scrotum; pain or discomfort in either the testicle or scrotum; a dull ache in the lower belly or groin; enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue, or back pain.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology’s website, Cancer.net, adds to the list a sudden buildup of fluid in the scrotum, one testicle feeling firmer than the other or one growing bigger or becoming smaller.
“Swelling of one or both legs or shortness of breath from blood clot can be symptoms of testicular cancer,” ASCO says. “A blood clot in a large vein is called deep venous thrombosis. A blood clot in an artery in the lung is called a pulmonary embolism and causes shortness of breath.”
If you experience any of the above symptoms for two weeks or longer, you should see your PCP. Don’t procrastinate on this. Close to 10,000 cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed this year, and roughly 470 deaths will occur.
The American Cancer Society says that the “incidence rate of testicular cancer has been increasing in the U.S. and many other countries for several decades. Experts have not been able to find reasons for this.”
Certain factors increase your risk. Mayo explains that having an undescended testicle is one of them. “The testes form in the belly during fetal development. They typically descend into the scrotum before birth. If you have a testicle that never descended, your risk of testicular cancer is higher. The risk is increased even if you’ve had surgery to move the testicle to the scrotum.”
You also have a higher risk if testicular cancer runs in your family. And testicular cancer is most common in white people, but note that I said: “most common.”
Some healthcare providers recommend regular self-exams of the testicles. Others disagree with the recommendation stating there’s no data to support the claim that it’s effective. I recommend you consult with your PCP on the matter.
If you or your medico find lumps, swelling, or other symptoms, you’ll need to have some diagnostic tests, including blood tests and ultrasound.
“An ultrasound will show whether the lumps are inside or outside the testicle,” Mayo says. “Lumps inside the testicle are more likely to be testicular cancer.”
Tests will determine what type of testicular cancer you have. What type of cancer you have will determine the treatment. You’ll want to discuss all of your options with your healthcare team.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at email@example.com. This article was written for publication in the Bonner County Daily Bee: June 21, 2023.