The exact cause of most cases of testicular cancer is not known. Compared with other types of cancer, testicular cancer is rare. There are a few risk factors that make a man more likely to develop testicular cancer. Even if a man has one or more risk factors for this disease, it is impossible to know for sure how much that risk factor contributes to developing the cancer. Also, most men with testicular cancer do not have any of the known risk factors – there is research in this area to understand why this is so.
There is no standard screening test used for early detection of testicular cancer. Most of the time a lump on the testicle is the first sign. Usually testicular cancer is first found by men themselves, either by chance or during self-exam. Sometimes the cancer is found by a doctor during a routine physical exam.
The best time for you to examine your testicles is during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed.
- Hold the penis out of the way and examine each testicle separately.
- Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands and roll it gently between the fingers.
- Look and feel for any hard lumps or nodules (smooth rounded masses) or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testes.
If you have signs or symptoms that may suggest testicular cancer, your doctor will want to take a complete medical history. During a physical exam, the doctor will feel the testicles for swelling or tenderness and for the size and location of any lumps. The doctor will also examine your abdomen, lymph nodes and other parts of your body carefully, looking for any signs the tumor has spread. Often the results of the exam are normal aside from the testicular abnormalities.
If the doctor sees a solid tumor on ultrasound, he or she will recommend surgery to remove it as soon as possible. The entire specimen is sent to the lab, where a pathologist (a doctor specializing in laboratory diagnosis of diseases) examines the tissue under a microscope.
As you deal with your cancer and the process of treatment, you need to have honest, open discussions with your cancer care team. You should feel free to ask any questions you might have, no matter how trivial they might seem.
Things to do:
- Relax: Any cancer diagnosis is scary, but testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer. The survival rates are one of the highest of all the cancers. The overall survival rate is greater than 95%. If diagnosed early, while the cancer is confined to the testicle, the survival rate is 99%.
- Be a Self-Advocate: Self-advocacy is an ongoing process of taking an active role in your cancer care. It involves becoming educated about testicular cancer, your treatment options and effectively communicating your needs with your treatment team, friends and family.
- Know Your Treatment Options: The three main methods of treatment for testicular cancer are: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
- Get Support: Having a great support team of friends and family when fighting testicular cancer is essential. You are not alone; consider getting support from someone who has battled testicular cancer too.
- Think About Fertility: As more and more young men are surviving testicular cancer, fertility has become an increasingly important consideration. Your doctor should talk to you about preserving your fertility, such as sperm banking.
Follow-up care is extremely important after treatment of testicular cancer because even if it comes back, it is still often curable. That is why finding it early is so important.
If you were diagnosed with testicular cancer, how did you cope with it? Please feel free to share your suggestions or story so we may help others.
Reproductive information for cancer patients: fertileHOPE
Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation: How to do a self exam
U-M Cancer Center: Testicular Cancer
U-M Cancer Center: Multidisciplinary Urology Oncology Clinic
U-M Cancer Center: Fertility Counseling and Gamete Cryopreservation Program
The Cancer AnswerLine™ is a dedicated phone line at the Comprehensive Cancer Center that is staffed by oncology nurses five days a week, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at 800-865-1125. They have a combined 105 years of experience helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer.
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