Testicular cancer is the second most common cancer affecting young men aged between 18 and 39. But if they receive treatment, more than 9 out of 10 men can be cured.
What is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is a cancer that develops in the testicles, the two small, egg-shaped glands behind the penis that produce sperm. The cancer is usually just in one testicle, but it can appear in both.
It is possible for testicular cancer to spread to the lymph nodes in the stomach or to other parts of the body.
Testicular cancer is rare in Australia, making up about 1 in every 100 cancers in men. About 800 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer in Australia every year.
Testicular cancer risk factors
It is not known why some men develop testicular cancer. It is not caused by injuring the testicles. However, men may be at greater risk of developing testicular cancer if:
- they have had cancer in the other testicle before
- they have undescended testicles (testicles that did not move down into the scrotum after you were born)
- they have a father or brother who had testicular cancer (although the risk is very small)
- they have fertility problems (trouble fathering a baby)
- they have HIV or AIDS
- they were born with a defect of the penis known as hypospadias
Types of testicular cancer
There are different types of testicular cancer and their names are determined by the type of cell where the cancer develops. The most common type is known as seminoma. The other types are known as non-seminoma and include choriocarcinoma, embryonal carcinoma, teratoma and yolk sac tumours.
Another condition, called intratubular germ cell neoplasia (ITGCN or IGCN), has a 1 in 2 chance of developing into testicular cancer within 5 years. This condition can only be found if you have a biopsy.
Testicular cancer symptoms
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless lump or swelling of one of the testicles.
Other symptoms may include:
- a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum (the sac of skin that holds the testicles)
- a change in the size or shape of a testicle
- a feeling that the testicles are uneven
- aches and pains in the testicles, scrotum, stomach or back
- enlarged, tender nipples
- coughing or breathlessness
Sometimes, however, a testicular cancer will have no symptoms at all.
Testicular cancer diagnosis
If you find a lump or have any other testicular cancer symptoms, first see your doctor who will examine your testicles.
If they find a lump, they may send you for an ultrasound and/or a blood test. Sometimes other tests are ordered such as a CT scan, an MRI scan or a biopsy (where a small sample of tissue is taken from the testicle).
Self-examination for testicular cancer
Testicular cancer is very often curable but you need to find it early. All young men should regularly check their testicles for any lumps or swelling.
Check yourself after a warm bath or shower, when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. Examine each testicle in turn by rolling it gently between your fingers and thumb. Also check the tube at the back of the testicle (called the epididymis) for any swelling.
A healthy testicle feels firm and smooth. It is normal for one testicle to be slightly bigger or to hang lower than the other. If you notice any changes, lumps or swelling in your testicle, see a doctor straight away.
Testicular cancer treatment
Treatment for testicular cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far it has spread.
Anyone with suspected testicular cancer will need the affected testicle surgically removed in an operation called an orchidectomy. A laboratory will then examine the tissue to confirm the type of cancer and at what stage it is at.
After the surgery, there may not be any further treatment apart from close monitoring. Some men will have chemotherapy or radiotherapy to kill any cancer cells that may have spread to other parts of the body. Others may need further surgery.
Living with testicular cancer
It is possible to have a silicone implant, known as a prosthesis, to replace the lost testicle. This will look and feel like a normal testicle. If you would like to have a prosthesis, talk to your doctor. It is possible to have the implant at the same time as the orchidectomy or later.
You should still be able to father children after treatment. However, testicular cancer, as well as treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can lower fertility.
After you have been treated for cancer, it is normal to feel afraid that the cancer will return. It can also take time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes involved in losing a testicle.
If you are struggling, it is important to seek support from your doctor, a therapist or other men who have gone through testicular cancer.
Cancer Council Australia provides services and support to all people affected by cancer. Call them on 13 11 20.
CanTeen provides support for young people (aged 12-25) affected by cancer. Contact CanTeen on 1800 835 932.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2020