Testicular Cancer

What is testicular cancer?

The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow, divide and then die. Sometimes, cells mutate (change) and begin to grow and divide more quickly than normal cells. Rather than dying, these abnormal cells clump together to form tumors. If these tumors are cancerous (also called malignant tumors), they can invade and kill your body's healthy tissues. From these tumors, cancer cells can metastasize (spread) and form new tumors in other parts of the body. By contrast, noncancerous tumors (also called benign tumors) do not spread to other parts of the body.

Testicular cancer begins in one or both of the testicles. The testicles are located in the scrotum, the skin “sack” that hangs beneath the penis. They manufacture male hormones and produce sperm. A normal adult testicle is about the size of a golf ball and is round, smooth and firm.

Who gets testicular cancer?

Male reproductive system

Male reproductive system Cancer of the testicles is the most common cancer in young men (15 to 34 years old). A man is more likely to get testicular cancer if any of the following are true about him:

  • Is white.
  • Has a father or brother who has or has had testicular cancer.
  • Has a testicle that did not come down into the scrotum (called an undescended testicle). This applies even if surgery was done to remove the testicle or bring it down.
  • Has small testicles or testicles that aren't shaped normally.
  • Has Klinefelter's syndrome (a genetic condition where male infants are born with an extra X chromosome).

What are some signs of testicular cancer?

  • A hard, painless lump on the testicle (this is the most common sign)
  • Pain or a dull ache in the scrotum
  • A scrotum that feels heavy or swollen
  • Bigger or more tender "breasts"

Testicular cancer is very treatable if it's found early. Your doctor can check your testicles during an exam. A self-exam is another good way to check for testicular cancer (see below for self-exam directions). If you find anything unusual during a self-exam (like a lump or swelling), see your doctor right away.

How do I do a testicular self-exam?

Testicular self-exam

The best time to do the exam is during or right after a shower or a bath. The warm water relaxes the skin on your scrotum and makes the exam easier.

  • Check your testicles one at a time. Use one or both hands.
  • Cup your scrotum with one hand to see if there is any change from the way it feels normally (Picture #1).
  • Place your index and middle fingers under one testicle with your thumb on top.
  • Gently roll the testicle between your thumb and fingers.
  • Feel for any lumps in or on the side of the testicle (Picture #2). Repeat with the other testicle.
  • Feel along the epididymis (a soft, tubelike, comma-shaped structure behind the testicle that collects and carries sperm) for swelling (Picture #3).

It's normal for one testicle to be a little bit bigger than the other. The testicles should be smooth and firm. If you feel any bumps or lumps, visit your doctor right away.

How is testicular cancer treated?

If you have testicular cancer, your doctor will likely suggest that the cancerous testicle be surgically removed. Your doctor may also recommend chemotherapy if your cancer is more severe or the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

More Information

For more information talk to your doctor.

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Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff.

Testicular Cancer by S Kincade, CPT, MC, USA (American Family Physician May 1, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990501ap/2539.html)

Reviewed/Updated: 02/08
Created: 05/99