Testicular cancer occurs when healthy cells in a testicle become altered, grow and divide in an unorderly and uncontrolled way, growing out of control. This subsequently cause a nodule or swelling in the testicle.
Factors that may increase the risk of testicular cancer include:
- An undescended testicle (cryptorchidism). Men who have a testicle that never descended since birth (meaning never went down completely into the scrotum) are at greater risk of testicular cancer. The risk remains high even if the testicle has been surgically relocated to the scrotum.
Around 3 to 5% of boys are born with undescended testicles inside their abdomen. But they usually descend into the scrotum during the first year of life.
In most cases, testicles that do not descend by the time a boy is one year old descend at a later stage.
If the testicles do not descend naturally, an operation known as an orchidopexy must be carried out to move the testicles into the correct position inside the scrotum.
It’s important that undescended testicles move down into the scrotum during early childhood because boys with undescended testicles have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer than boys whose testicles descend normally.
- Abnormal testicle development. Conditions that cause testicles to develop abnormally, such as Klinefelter syndrome, may increase your risk of testicular cancer.
- Family history. If family members have had testicular cancer, you may have an increased risk.
If your father had testicular cancer, you’re around 4 times more likely to develop it than someone with no family history of the condition.
If your brother had testicular cancer, you’re about 8 times more likely to develop it.
- Age. Testicular cancer affects teenagers and younger men, particularly those between ages 15 and 40. However, it can occur at any age.
- History of previous testicular cancer. Men who have previously been diagnosed with testicular cancer are between 12 and 18 times more likely to develop it in the other testicle.
For this reason, if you have been diagnosed with testicular cancer, it is very important that you follow up and have a surveillance on the other testicle.
The testicle should not be biopsied before the operation as ultrasound and clinical examination confirms the diagnosis with high surety, and biopsy may allow spread of the cancer outside the testicle. The doctor can advise you on the plan of treatment.
Treatment almost always includes the surgical removal of the affected testicle (orchidectomy or orchiectomy), which does not usually affect fertility or the ability to have sex. Partial excision of the testicle is rarely needed and has very specific indications.
The doctor will advise you on sperm banking and testicular prosthesis.
In some cases, chemotherapy or, less commonly, radiotherapy may be used in the treatment of testicular cancers after removal of the testicle, based on the stage of the disease.
Radical orchidectomy through a groin incision. Pics from BJUI Surgery Illustrated
There is no way to prevent testicular cancer.
The best way to prevent testicular cancer from spreading is to identify it in the early stages and obtain treatment as soon as possible.
Testicle self-examinations have been advocated by some to identify testicular cancer at its earliest stage, but this is controversial as a lot of false self-examination will lead to unnecessary investigations. For this, it is best to see the doctor to confirm if anything is wrong.