Testicular cancer happens when cancer cells develop in one or both testicles. It's a rare cancer, with only about 8,800 new cases in 2017, but it's the most common cancer in men ages 15 to 34. The good news is that when testicular cancer is caught early, the survival rate is nearly 100 percent. Even when found at late stages, the survival rate is still 95 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
While deaths from testicular cancer remain low, the number of men diagnosed with this disease has been increasing in recent decades. There's no standard testicular cancer screening, yet early detection gives you the best outcomes for any cancer. So what can you do to protect yourself?
Testicular Cancer Risk Factors
Understanding risk factors for the disease may help you and your doctor decide what approach you should take to monitor yourself. You may be at greater risk if you:
- Have a family history of testicular cancer
- Have an abnormal or undescended testicle
- Have Klinefelter's syndrome
- Have testicular carcinoma in situ
- Are white
Testicular Cancer Screening
There's no routine screening test for testicular cancer, but some doctors do check the testicles during routine physical exams. Others may recommend that you perform a self-exam every month. The American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn't have a formal recommendation on a testicular self-exam because the effectiveness hasn't been studied.
With testicular cancer screening, the cure rates are so high, even at late stages, that it's hard to determine a survival benefit to screening. However, it's always best to talk to your doctor about what's right for you based on your personal risk factors.
A self-exam is an easy way to stay on top of your health on your own time. The ACS recommends starting the exam after you get out of the bath or shower. Check one testicle at a time, rolling the testicle gently between your fingers and thumb. Feel for lumps, bumps, changes in size, or anything that seems out of the ordinary.
Inside each testicle is the epididymis, a coiled tube that can feel like a small bump. After a few self-exams, you'll start to realize what is normal for you and be able to notice any changes.
Testicular Cancer Symptoms
A painless lump or swelling in the testicle is the most common symptom, and one that is most often found by men on their own. Other symptoms include:
- Pain in the testicle or scrotum
- An ache in the groin or abdomen
- Fluid build-up in the scrotum
- Swelling in the testicle
If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor. But stay calm — remember, testicular cancer is rare. Many other harmless, noncancerous conditions also cause a painless lump in the testicle. Kidney stones, infections, vein issues, injury, and other issues can lead to the same symptoms and may be more likely causes of pain.
It's best to first call your doctor and get evaluated. An ultrasound — a painless, noninvasive exam that uses sound waves to see inside your body — is usually the first test used in reaching a diagnosis.
The lifetime risk of developing testicular cancer is low, but early detection is always best when it comes to cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk.