In a human male, the testicles or testes are genital organs which are located inside a loose bag of skin underneath the penis (this loose bag is called the scrotum). The function of the testes is to release male sex hormones. It also produces and releases male sperm. In terms of comparative numbers, testicular cancer is much less common than many other forms of cancer. But in absolute numbers, testicular cancer is common in adult males between the ages of 15 and 35. That is the bad news. The good news is that testicular cancer is much easier to treat than many other cancers.
A seemingly innocuous enlargement in one of the testicles could be the first sign of impending testicular cancer, and you might also feel some pain or discomfort in either of the testicles, or in the scrotal sac. It may or may not be accompanied by a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum or a dull ache in the abdomen or groin areas. In males, an enlargement of the breasts could also be observed, and there might be tenderness or slight pain as well. There might be an accumulation of fluid in the scrotum. Back pain is a seemingly unrelated symptom of testicular cancer as well.
The commonly used TNM system of grading is used by doctors for testicular cancer as well. The only difference of this usage with other types of cancer is that a S is added on to the T (Tumour), N (Node), and M (Metastasis). The S here stands for serum tumour marker, and could be AFP, beta-hCG, or LDH. Using the T, N, M, and S scores, the staging of the testicular cancer is determined. These stages are labelled as Stage I, Stage II, and Stage II, in increasing order of advancement of the cancer.
The alteration of cell structure in the healthy cells of the testicles causes testicular cancer. In a normal, healthy human body, the cells of every part of the body multiply and grow in normal fashion, in order to replace the cells that are dying off. When testicular cancer occurs, the cells begin to grown in a haphazard and uncontrolled fashion. The men who are greatest risk of testicular cancer are those whose testes have not descended normally into the scrotal sac before birth. It has also been observed that a family history of testicular cancer can cause the ailment to repeat in subsequent generations.
Just like breast cancer for women, testicular cancer can be self-diagnosed to a certain extent by men themselves. This can be done by physically examining the scrotal sac and feeling for lumps, if any. You should have such self-examinations at least twice a year. If you feel something is not right, you should proceed to your physician for a formal check-up. Some of the tests that the physician is likely to take you through are blood tests, ultrasound, and radical inguinal orchiectomy (removal of one testicle), if needed, so that it can be tested for cancer.
Depending on whether the doctor gives the prognosis as Good, Intermediate, or Poor, the treatment will proceed accordingly. There are usually five types of treatment suggested to the patient. In the first, the patient would be kept under surveillance for some more time without actually beginning any treatment. The next two are common to most cancer patients – chemotherapy and radiotherapy (or a mix of both). For more advanced cases of testicular cancer, high dose chemotherapy along with stem cell transplant is done. And finally, surgery might be done to remove the infected testicle.
Like we already suggested, a regular cycle of self-examination must be followed by all males after 20 years of age. This examination should be done in a specified way only. It is best done after a warm shower or bath. Both hands should be used, one for examining each testicle. Apart from the cord-like structure at the top and back of each testicle, which is normal, you must watch out for any unnatural lumps. Apart from this self-examination, it is also advisable to get a cancer screening and physical examination done once a year, so that you can diagnose testicular cancer early and treat it effectively.