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Testicular cancer: how to spot the signs

11 Nov 2020

Movember has made us more aware of men’s health issues and male cancers. Here, we get expert advice on testicular cancer

The testes have two basic functions. First, they’re responsible for the production of sperm. Second, they help manufacture testosterone in a man’s body — this is the hormone that helps develop male traits like a deep voice and beard growth.

Testicular cancer — what are the risks?

Though it’s rare, testicular cancer is on the rise in Europe. It usually affects Caucasian males and is frequently the most common cancer in young adult men — usually in their early 30s.

In the UK, it only accounts for 1% of all cancers, but since the 1990s, the rate of testicular cancer has gone up by 24%.

Unlike prostate cancer, testicular cancer risk decreases as you get older. Though the exact cause is not known, there are factors that can increase your risk — these include:

Having an undescended testicle – ‘This is where the testes do not descend from the abdomen into the scrotum by early childhood, and is the most important risk factor,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont, Livi GP.

Family history – ‘If your dad or brother developed testicular cancer, you’re at higher risk,’ Dr McClymont explains.

Twins – Especially if they’re both male, twins may be at increased risk.

Height – Men who are taller than average are also more at risk.

What are the signs of testicular cancer?

Most men’s testicles are roughly the same size, though one is usually slightly bigger than the other and one may hang lower than the other.

Testicles should feel smooth, without any lumps or bumps and firm but not hard. You may feel a soft tube at the back of each testicle, called the epididymis (this transports and stores sperm from the testes).

Common signs of testicular cancer include:

  • A lump in the testicles
  • A change in size or shape of testicles
  • A dull ache or pain
  • A feeling of heaviness in the testicles

Rest assured, though, that there are several other reasons why the testes may be painful, like an infection, trauma, inflammation or cysts.

Testicular cancer is rare — and very treatable — so make sure you get any symptoms checked by a doctor.

How is it diagnosed?

A diagnosis is usually reached through a combination of a testicular ultrasound scan and blood tests.

How do you do a self-check?

It’s important to check the testes regularly and get to know what’s normal for you, so you can spot any changes.

Do regular self-checks from puberty onwards. Testicular cancer is nearly always cured, but it’s easier to treat when diagnosed early.

The best time to check is during, or immediately after, a warm bath or shower when your scrotal sac is relaxed.

Hold your scrotum in the palm of your hand and use your fingers and thumb to examine each testicle.
Feel for:

  • Lumps or swellings
  • Anything unusual
  • Differences between your testicles (it’s normal for them to be different, but look out for anything new)

If you notice any of these changes, talk to a doctor straight away.

How is testicular cancer treated?

Treatment will depend on the individual case and stage of cancer. It nearly always involves surgical removal of the affected testicle (orchidectomy).

Men shouldn’t worry about their sexual performance as a result. ‘Having an orchidectomy will not prevent erection,’ says Dr McClymont. And, most men will still be fertile with one remaining testicle.

‘In some cases of testicular cancer where chemotherapy is needed in addition to surgery, men will usually be offered “sperm banking” in case the chemotherapy affects fertility afterwards,’ she says.

The key thing is early detection — so make self-checking (or partner-checking) a habit — and report any changes to a doctor. You can see a GP the same day with the Livi app.

This article has been medically approved by Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi

Last updated:
11 Nov 2020

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