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Five Important Things to Know About Testicular Cancer
How much do you know about testicular cancer? It’s relatively uncommon, so many individuals aren’t very aware of it.
While it’s a daunting diagnosis to receive, there is good news:
“Most men with testicular cancer will be cured of it,” said Daniel M. Geynisman, MD, a hematologist/oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Even in cases where the cancer has spread, the vast majority of men do get cured as long as they receive appropriate and prompt treatment.”
That also means it’s important to understand the risk factors for testicular cancer, be aware of its common symptoms, and take action if you notice anything unusual. Here are five facts all men (and the people who love them) should know about the disease:
Testicular cancer mostly affects younger men
Unlike most cancers, testicular cancer risk is higher earlier in life. “It’s most common in men between 15 and 40 years old, though we don’t fully understand why,” Geynisman said. While this is the case, being older doesn’t make you immune to it. Around eight percent of testicular cancer cases occur in men over age 55.
Any change in one of your testicles needs attention
Most men who are diagnosed with testicular cancer first notice a lump, swelling, or a feeling of heaviness in one of their testicles. “If you notice a change in size of a testicle or you have pain in a testicle, you should alert your doctor immediately,” Geynisman said.
You’re your own best screening tool
There aren’t any official screening tests or definitive guidelines for testicular cancer—most cases are first found at home when a man notices something unusual. “Unless you have a family history of testicular cancer or other rare risk factors, such as a history of undescended testicles, you don’t necessarily need to actively check for it. Although, a monthly self-exam is reasonable.” Geynisman said.
If you opt to do self-exams, talk with your doctor about how often you should perform them. Aim to examine your testicles after taking a shower or bath, when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. With self-checks, you’ll quickly get a sense of what feels normal for you. If you notice anything that seems off, let your doctor know right away.
Certain factors can increase your risk of testicular cancer
While testicular cancer isn’t very common, some men may be significantly more likely to get it than others. Having an undescended testicle, having a father or brother who’s had testicular cancer, or previously having testicular cancer yourself can increase your risk.
In those cases, it’s worth talking to your doctor about the steps you should take to protect your health. “They may recommend monthly self-exams or seeing a urologist,” Geynisman said.
Treatment can have significant side effects—but they’re manageable
Usually, testicular cancer is initially treated with surgery to remove the affected testicle. More advanced cases often also need chemotherapy, radiation, or additional surgery. And, while these forms of treatment are highly effective, they can affect fertility. “This is something men can manage, often by banking their sperm ahead of time,” Geynisman said. “The key is being proactive and talking with your doctor before starting treatment.”Rarely, treatment can also cause a drop in testosterone levels. “But that can be managed medically,” Geynisman said. “Even if you have surgery and chemotherapy or radiation, most men do well and are able to lead full lives afterward.”