If you’re a young man, chances are you don’t think too often about cancer. So you might be surprised to know that testicular cancer, though fairly rare, is the most common cancer found in men between the ages of 20 and 35.
The disease comes with few or no symptoms, but it is highly treatable if caught early. That’s why you should do monthly self-checks, so you will know when something isn’t normal.
Testicular cancer occurs when malignant cells form in one or both testicles — most often in the cells that produce sperm. Unlike many cancers, testicular cancer is not a result of controllable risk factors such as diet, smoking or exercise. While all men are susceptible, there are certain conditions that appear to increase risk:
Cryptorchidism, when a testicle fails to “drop” from the abdomen into the scrotum before birth. This is the primary risk factor, with most cancers occurring in the undescended testicle.
Age. Men ages 20 to 35 are the highest at risk, with cases then lowering until they reach age 65.
Family history of testicular cancer.
Race and ethnicity, with cases of white males 4 to 5 times greater than Black or Asian-American males.
HIV infection has been correlated with a slightly increased risk of testicular cancer.
Testicular Warning Signs Are Subtle
Because testicular cancer symptoms can be subtle, so pay attention to any changes to your testes, particularly if you notice a small lump, thickening or swelling on your testicle. It might be accompanied by pain or discomfort, but it can also be painless.
Other symptoms may include:
Change in the usual size of one or both of your testes
Body aches in your back, groin, lower abdomen or scrotum
Feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
Bloating in your lower abdomen
Breast growth or tenderness
All men should conduct a simple monthly self-check to not only become familiar with the testes’ normal state but to detect any changes, no matter how slight.
I Found a Lump on My Testicle — Now What?
First of all, try not to panic. There are fewer than 10,000 cases of testicular cancer in the United States each year, and once caught, has a 95 percent to 99 percent survival rate.
If you discover a lump, or experience any of the other symptoms, your general practitioner or urologist will order a testicular ultrasound to get a better understanding of the mass. Additional diagnostic tests might include: blood tests, CT scans or MRI tests to further identify the cancer’s type, stage and whether it has spread to any other part of the body.
If testicular cancer is discovered, the first step is usually removal of one or both affected testicles. While removal of only one testicle does not affect fertility or sex drive, should both need to be removed, you may want to consider sperm banking if you might want to have children in the future. Any decrease in sex drive can be managed with medication.
After removal and determination of the cancer’s pathology, you will work with an oncologist for any follow-up radiation or chemotherapy therapy that might be needed. As with any cancer treatment, ongoing observation and testing is required to ensure the cancer does not reappear in the remaining testicle or elsewhere in the body.
Fortunately, the combined efforts of patient awareness and medical advancements make testicular cancer highly curable, giving patients an excellent prognosis when detected early.
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