Testicular Cancer- Are You At Risk?

While testicular cancer is the 25th most common cancer in the United States, and is relatively rare, it is the most common cancer in men ages 15-35, but can occur in men of any age and race.

Roughly 8,500 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year and of that number, about 350 die from the disease.

Cancer of the testis is considered one of the most treatable cancers, even after it's spread beyond the testicle. 

Risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Abnormal testicle development, including undescended testicles
  • Family history (The risk increases for those with a family history of the disease)
  • Age (Testicular cancer is most common in teens and young men between the ages of 15 and 35)
  • Race (White men are far more likely to get testicular cancer than other ethnic groups)
  • Certain sports activities such as cycling and horse riding

Symptoms of testicular cancer include:

  • An unusual lump in either testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness or dull ache in the scrotum, abdomen or groin
  • Pain in the scrotum
  • Back pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should consult with your doctor.

One of the best ways of detecting the cancer is through regular testicular self-examination, an easy way to monitor for possible tumors for early diagnosis.  Other methods of diagnosing testicular cancer include blood tests which look for certain proteins, known as tumor markers, in the blood, and ultrasounds that measure blood flow to the testes. CT scans are also used to diagnose the cancer, particularly if it has spread beyond the testes.  Men whose tests are positive for cancer are referred to a urologist who will perform the surgery to remove the tumor.

Testicular cancers are typically germ cell tumors —- meaning they originate in the gonads in cells that make sperm and testosterone. There are two types of germ cell tumors, seminoma and nonseminoma. Seminomas usually grow slowly. If they are diagnosed as early-stage, they are considerably less likely to spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Nonseminomas are more aggressive and more likely to spread beyond the testicle.

One of the most prominent testicular cancer survivors is cyclist Lance Armstrong who was diagnosed with an advanced case in 1996 after it spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen. After successfully treating the disease, Armstrong went on to create the Lance Armstrong Foundation to offer help cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.

Other famous people who survived testicular cancer include figure skater and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, comedian Tom Green, world-class runner Steve Scott and NFL punter, Josh Bidwell.

The American Cancer Society estimates the chance of developing testicular cancer in the U.S. is one in 263. The good news is, testicular cancer has a high cure rate (90-95%) and is successfully treated even when it has metastasized to other parts of the body. Officials say advances in high dose chemotherapy and stem cell rescue, has resulted in improved prognosis for men diagnosed with cancer of the testes.