Testicular cancer can develop in one or both of a males’s testicles. While this cancer is very rare, it is the most common cancer found in younger men. It is caused by an abnormal growth of germ cells that usually are dormant until sperm fertilizes an egg. When the germ cells become cancerous, they multiply rapidly, forming a tumor than can double in size in just 10 – 30 days.
This disease can also metastasize, spreading to other parts of the body. Cells from the original tumor can travel to other areas in the body through a male’s blood and lymph vessels. It most often spreads to the abdomen, liver, lungs, bones and brain.
The different types of testicular cancer include:
Seminoma Germ Cell Tumors
Nonseminoma Germ Cell Tumors
Over 90% of diagnosed testicular cancers are caused from germ cell tumors. Seminoma and nonseminoma are the two main types of germ cell tumors. Sometimes cancers can include both types of these germ cell tumors.
Seminoma tumors typically occur in men aged 30 to 50. They are caused by the sperm producing germ cells of the testicles. When necessary, they can be treated with surgery and respond well to chemotherapy and radiation.
Nonseminoma tumors most often occur at a younger age, normally to men in their 20‘s. They can have characteristics of embryonic tissues or of the embryonal yolk sac, with features that can include, but are not limited to, hair, nails, teeth etc. These types of tumors can be treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
A less common type of testicular cancer in adults is caused by stromal tumors that affect the supportive and hormone-producing areas of the testicles. The two types of stromal tumors are:
Leydig cell tumors that affect the cells that normally produce male sex hormones (androgens). They are typically confined within the actual testicle and usually don’t spread so they can be treated effectively with surgery. Those that do metastasize have a poor prognosis, as they don’t respond well to chemotherapy and radiation.
Sertoli cell tumors which are usually benign, affect the stromal cells of the testicles that nourish sperm producing cells. They can however metastasize and be quite dangerous.
Other types of cancer can spread to the testicles, but they are not considered true testicular cancers because they don’t start in the testicles. These types of cancer are considered secondary testicular cancer. Lymphoma, that is the most common type of testicular cancer, is more common in men older than 50.
Men who wish to have children but have been diagnosed with testicular cancer should discuss options for fertility preservation with their oncologist prior to treatment. Fertility preservation will save sperm that can be used to have children in the future.
Currently, there is no standard or routine screening test for testicular cancer.
Some risk factors for Testicular Cancer are:
Age: While testicular cancer can affect males of any age, including infants and elderly men, nearly half of all diagnosed testicular cancers are in men between the ages of 20 and 34.
Family History: Having a family history of testicular cancer (first degree relative: father or brother) can increase a male’s risk.
Ethnicity: Testicular cancer affects Caucasian males at a rate 4 – 5 times greater than African American or Asian American men.
Genetic Mutation: Klinefelter syndrome which is a genetic disorder in males, caused by having one or more extra X chromosomes increases the risk of developing extragonadal germ cell tumors and breast cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
These will depend on the type of tumor and can include:
Lump or swelling in the testicle
Pain can be experienced, though most times testicular tumors don’t cause pain.
Breast growth or soreness
Loss of sex drive
Early puberty in boys
Symptoms of more advanced testicular cancer can include:
Low back pain
Shortness of breath
Helpful Patient Resources:
We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.