By Kathy Hubbard
Today we’re going to talk about men’s genitals. Why? Because testicular cancer is the most common cancer affecting people assigned male at birth aged 15 to 35. And you need to know that if it’s diagnosed early, testicular cancer has an excellent cure rate.
Testicles (aka testes; one is called a testis) are part of the male reproductive system. The American Cancer Society explains that “the two organs are each normally a little smaller than a golf ball in adult males. They’re held within a sac of skin called the scrotum. The scrotum hangs under the base of the penis.
Testicles have two main functions. The first is to make hormones like testosterone and the second is to make sperm. “Sperm cells are made in long, thread-like tubes inside the testicles called seminiferous tubules. They’re then stored in a small, coiled tube behind each testicle called the epididymis,” ACS says.
“During ejaculation, sperm cells are carried from the epididymis through the vas deferens to the seminal vesicles. There, they mix with fluids made by the vesicles, prostate gland, and other glands to form semen. This fluid then enters the urethra, the tube in the center of the penis through which both urine and semen leave the body.”
Since the testicles are made of many types of cells all of which can develop into one or more types of cancer, it’s important to know which cell the cancer started in. That will determine the treatment and your prognosis.
As I said at the top, the prognosis is very good. The Testicular Cancer Society says that “the survival rates are one of the highest of all the cancers. It is a diagnosis and not a death sentence. The overall survival rate is greater than 95 percent.”
The Urology Care Foundation tells us that the most common sign of a testicular tumor is a painless lump in the testicle. Other signs include “swelling of the testicle (with or without pain) or feeling of weight in the scrotum; pain or a dull ache in the testicle, scrotum, or groin, and tenderness or changes in the male breast tissue.”
You may ask, how will you know you have a problem if the problem is painless? That’s a good question. The Cleveland Clinic recommends performing a testicular self-exam monthly. The steps are easy and should be performed right after a warm shower or bath.
“Use both hands to examine each testicle. Place your index and middle fingers underneath the testicle with your thumbs on top. Roll each testicle between your thumbs and fingers. Familiarize yourself with what’s normal. As you feel each testicle, you might notice a cord-like structure on top and in the back. It stores and transports sperm. Don’t confuse it with a lump,” Cleveland says.
It’s not only common, but normal for the testicles to be different sizes, but they should remain the same size. If you feel a lump, perhaps pea-sized and painless, or if you notice that the size of your testicles has changed, call your healthcare provider.
Risk factors don’t cause cancer, but you may be more likely to develop testicular cancer if you are between ages 15 and 35; you had undescended testicles (testicles that didn’t drop into the scrotum before birth); are non-Hispanic white; have a family history of testicular cancer or if you’ve had testicular cancer in the other testicle.
“Some of the same factors that cause infertility may also be related to the development of testicular cancer. More research is needed to understand the connection,” Cleveland says.
ACS says that “Scientists have found few risk factors that make someone more likely to develop testicular cancer. Most boys and men with testicular cancer don’t have any of the known risk factors.” That makes it clear, doesn’t it?
Treatment can include surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. Space doesn’t permit me to explore each of these options, but I really liked what the American Cancer Society said:
“It’s important to discuss all treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. You may feel that you need to make a decision quickly, but it’s important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have learned.”
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 and published in the Bonner County Daily Bee on June 15, 2022.