Part of the male reproductive system, the testicles (or testes) are two glands that are similar in size to a golf ball. They are located in a sac (called the scrotum) that hangs beneath the penis, where they create sperm and male hormones.
If a cell in the testicle is altered, it can begin to multiply uncontrollably — causing harm to surrounding tissues and sometimes even spreading to other parts of the body. When this uncontrolled growth in the testes occurs, it is called testicular cancer.
Testicular Cancer Types
The majority of testicular cancers originate in a testicle’s germ cells — the cells responsible for creating sperm. The two primary forms of germ cell testicular cancers are:
- Seminomas: These cancers typically respond well to treatment.
- Nonseminomas: Unlike seminomas, nonseminomas can spread quickly.
Stromal tumors are another form of testicular cancer. These cancers develop in testicular tissue rather than in the germ cells.
Testicular Cancer Risk Factors
Testicular cancer causes have not yet been determined, but certain factors can elevate your risk. These include:
- Being between the ages of 15 and 35 (though testicular cancer does occur at a lesser rate in both younger and older males)
- Being Caucasian
- Having a history of an undescended testicle
- Having a family history of testicular cancer
- Having HIV
Testicular Cancer Symptoms
The symptoms of testicular cancer are not the same for everyone, but one of the more commonly reported symptoms is a painless lump in one of the testicles. Additionally, you may notice: a change in the feel or texture of your testicle, fluid buildup in the scrotum, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum or pain in certain areas (including the testicles, scrotum, lower belly and groin).
You might also experience breast growth or have a decreased interest in sex. And if you are young, the early development of facial and body hair could also signify testicular cancer.
Of course, these symptoms do not always lead to a cancer diagnosis. But talk to your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms so you can rule out any other medical conditions.
Testicular Cancer Treatment
In the majority of testicular cancer cases, surgery will be performed to remove the testicle. Occasionally, lymph nodes may also need to be removed. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are additional treatments that may be used following surgery. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment for your individual situation based on a range of factors, including the tumor and cell type.
If your testicle is removed during surgery, no infertility issues should arise as the other testicle will still produce the necessary sperm. However, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may affect fertility. So if you wish to have children, ask your doctor about sperm banking before treatment begins.