Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men under the age of 35. And a testicular cancer diagnosis can lead to a lot of fear on the part of the patient.
The truth is testicular cancer is highly survivable. In 2013, there will be about 7,900 new testicular cancer diagnoses in the United States. However, because treatment is so successful, especially if found early, the risk of dying from this cancer is about one in 5,000.
Men treated for testicular cancer can certainly have full and active sex lives. While you may lose interest in sex during and immediately after treatment, that is likely only temporary. It may be slightly different based on whether or not you have surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation, but you can still have an active sex life.
But, as with any cancer, it’s important to catch it early and give treatment the best possible chance of success. That means being aware of the risk factors, the symptoms and the need for both regular exams with your doctor and self-exams.
Risk factors for testicular cancer include:
- Age. Testicular cancer is most common in men between the ages of 20 to 45. However, men of any age can develop this disease.
- HIV infection. Men with HIV or AIDS have a slightly higher risk.
- Undescended testicle. Men with this condition, in which one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum before birth as they normally should, have an increased risk.
- Family history. A man who has a close relative (particularly a brother) who has had testicular cancer has an increased risk.
- Personal history. Men who have had cancer in one testicle have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other testicle.
- Race. Although men of any race can have testicular cancer, white men are more likely than men of other races to be diagnosed. Testicular cancer is rare in black men, but black men with testicular cancer are more likely to die of the cancer than white men, particularly if the cancer has spread beyond the testicle to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body when it is diagnosed.
Symptoms of testicular cancer may include:
- Painless lump or swelling on either testicle. If detected early, a testicular tumor may be about the size of a pea or a marble, but it can grow much larger. Any lump, enlargement, hardness, pain or tenderness of the testicle should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
- Pain or discomfort (with or without swelling) in a testicle or the scrotum.
- Change in the way a testicle feels. For example, one testicle may also become firmer than the other testicle. Or, testicular cancer may cause the testicle to grow bigger or become smaller.
- Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. For example, a testicle that feels very firm or hard may be a sign of a problem.
- Dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
- Sudden buildup of fluid in the scrotum.
If you notice any of these symptoms, please go to your primary care provider for an evaluation. Some testicular cancers may not cause symptoms. That’s why regular doctor’s exams and self-exams are so important. Yearly exams with your doctor, along with monthly self-exams, are the best way to identify cancer as it develops.
Whitman-Walker can provide testicular exams as part of an annual physical and can teach our patients how to perform self-exams for testicular cancer. Find out more about our medical services and become a patient today.
Dr. Ray Martins is chief medical officer of Whitman-Walker Health. Reach him via wwc.org.