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The Hairy Facts
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer starts as an abnormal growth or tumour that develops in one or both testicles. The testicles are part of the male reproductive system and are responsible for the production of male hormones (mostly testosterone) and sperm.
Testicular cancer commonly presents as a small hard lump, with swelling or a change in the consistency of the testicle. Some men also experience a dull ache in the testicle or lower abdomen. In the majority of cases, only one testicle is affected. Men, regardless of age, who find such an abnormality, should go to the doctor immediately.
Testicular cancer is a highly treatable type of cancer with a very good cure rate (about 95%) if found and treated early. Whilst the current treatment of the disease is highly successful, there’s a need to do more to improve the quality of men’s lives post treatment. Imbalance of testosterone can result from therapy and can have effects such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, altered sexual function and a reduced quality of life. Because of the relative success in treating this disease, and the relatively fewer cases experienced compared to other cancers, testicular cancer is often the “forgotten cancer”. In addition to improving the quality of life for survivors, more work needs to be done to resolve the significant challenges associated with second line treatment, when initial therapy is unsuccessful.
Are there different types of testicular cancer?
Cancers of the testicle are named after the type of cell in which they develop. Testicular cancer can be grouped into three types of tumours:
Germ cell tumours
Secondary testicular tumours
More than 90% of testicular cancers develop in germ cells, which are responsible for the production of sperm. There are two main types of germ cell tumours; seminomas and non-seminomas. Testicular cancer can include a mix of seminoma and non-seminoma cells or a combination of the different types of non-seminoma. A small number of testicular cancers start in cells that make up the supportive (structural) and hormone producing tissue of the testicles and are known as stromal tumours.
Secondary testicular tumours
are caused by cancerous cells that have spread to the testicles from other parts of the body (metastasis). These cancers are much rarer than the previous forms of testicular cancer.
For more information about types of testicular cancer click
Who is at risk?
Young men between the age of 15 and 29 years are at the highest risk of developing testicular cancer. The causes of testicular cancer are unknown, however there possible factors that may increase a man’s risk including:
Undescended testes at birth
Family history (father or brother with testicular cancer)
Previous incident of testicular cancer (Around one in 25 men who have had cancer in one testicle are likely to develop cancer in the other testicle at some stage)
Down syndrome may also increases a man’s risk
There is no known link between testicular cancer and injury to the testicles, sporting strains, hot baths or wearing tight clothes.
What are the symptoms?
Men may experience few or no symptoms of testicular cancer. Important symptoms to watch for include:
Swelling or a lump in either testicle (usually painless)
A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
Change in the size and shape of the testicles
Aches or pain in the lower abdomen or groin
A sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum
Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
Enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue
What is testicular self-examination (TSE)?
Regular self-examination of the testicles is important for young men, particularly those at risk of testicular cancer. Being familiar with the size, shape and usual level of lumpiness can help you determine if something is not quite right. A testicular self-examination can help a man find any changes in the testes early, so that if treatment is needed it can start as early as possible.
A step-by-step guide for conducting a testicular self-examination can be found
Treatment Options & Side Effects
Testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer, and can be effectively treated, and potentially cured, if diagnosed and treated early. Advanced testicular cancer can also be cured with treatment. If diagnosed, the most important step is to talk your doctor about treatment choices. In choosing a treatment plan, factors such as your overall health and the type and stage of the cancer should be considered. You may consider getting a second or third doctor’s opinion.
In most men with testicular cancer, treatment involves the surgical removal of the affected testicle. This may be followed with surveillance, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
(surgical removal of the affected testis) is done under general anesthetic. The removed testis is then sent to a pathology laboratory to confirm the stage and type of cancer.
Chemotherapy or radiotherapy
is often prescribed after surgery to treat any remaining cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body, such as lymph nodes. The level or amount will differ for each man and will depend on the stage and type of cancer.
Treatment Side Effects:
Testicular cancer and the removal of one testicle should not alter sexual function or fertility. The effect on fertility following removal of one of the testicles is minimal as a single testicle produces such large numbers of sperm.
For those men who require further treatment, fertility is likely to be affected, at least temporarily. Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men with testicular cancer talk to their oncologist about sperm banking before commencing chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
For more detailed information on treatment options, visit the
CANADIAN CANCER SOCIETY
to find out more on Movember’s funded programs on testicular cancer.
To request a copy of our references, please contact