Testicular cancer | The signs, symptoms and when to get checked

Testicular cancer can be difficult for men to talk about. Unfortunately, silence on the subject can lead to a lack of understanding and difficulty identifying problematic lumps. Keep reading for expert information and advice on what to look out for and when to get yourself checked out by a professional.

What is testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that develops in the testicles. It occurs when abnormal cells in the testicle start to grow at an uncontrolled rate. There are a few different types of testicular cancer, the most common is the “germ cell tumour” variation.

It primarily affects young men, with the average age of diagnosis being just 33 years old. Thankfully, testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer if detected early.

What are the signs of testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer requires a testing process to diagnose.

This may mean you undergo an ultrasound scan, biopsy and blood tests once you’ve detected a lump and received an examination. There are a number of signs and symptoms that can indicate the possibility of testicular cancer.

These include:

  • A lump on either testicle
  • Heaviness of one or both testicles
  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Changes to the size of one or both testicles
  • Fluid build-up

It’s important to remember that any of the symptoms listed above can be caused by a condition other than cancer. If you do find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms, we recommend getting checked out by a professional to put your mind at ease.

Is there always pain?

It’s rare for a cancerous lump to be painful.

This makes knowing how to self-examine your testicles even more important, because your body will likely not warn you about the presence of a potentially cancerous lump or swelling.

If you do have pain, it’s equally important you get yourself examined by a medical professional. Pain can be a sign of testicular torsion, swollen veins in the testicle (varicocele), infection or a cyst.

How do you get testicular cancer?

This is a good question that isn’t fully understood.

There are many factors that will increase your likelihood of developing testicular cancer, some of which you can control (lifestyle factors) and others (genetic factors) which you cannot.

These factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Weight
  • Whether you’ve had testicular cancer in one testicle before
  • Family history of cancer
  • Men with a low fertility count
  • Younger age
  • Whether or not you have one or two undescended testicles (cryptorchidism)
  • Race (testicular cancer is more common in Caucasian men)

Whilst it’s thought that these factors may play a part in the development of testicular cancer, research indicates that most men with testicular cancer have no known risk factors present.

How to check your testicles

Checking your testicles is quick and easy. Familiarising yourself with the shape and size of your testicles means you can quickly notice any swelling or changes to shape and size.

  • One at a time, gently hold each testicle between your thumb and index finger
  • Roll the testicle between your fingers, checking for any unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling
  • Compare each testicle to the other, noting any differences in shape or size

Looking for detailed instructions? Click here to learn all about checking your testicles for lumps

How often should I do a check?

Checking your testicles once a month is enough. Make sure you use the same method each time when you do.

For example, don’t self-examine after intense exercise one month and in the shower the next. Using the same method every time helps minimise the impact certain factors can have in the shape and size of your testicles, such as blood flow like hormones, testicular retraction, or position.

How common is testicular cancer?

Between 2016 and 2018, testicular cancer made up around 1% of all new cancers diagnosed in the UK. The good news is that it’s a highly treatable cancer with a survival rate of around 91%.

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 34. The older you get, the less likely you are to be affected, but it has presented in men in their 40’s.

On top of that, treatment continues to get more effective. Since the 1970s, treatment for testicular cancer has improved to reduce mortality rates by a huge 82%.

Should I worry about testicular cancer?

In the UK, testicular cancer is diagnosed in around 2,300 men every year. Whilst this doesn’t sound like a lot, testicular cancer is the number one cancer diagnosed in men aged between 15 and 34.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms means you’re more likely to get checked out if you find something that doesn’t look or feel right. If you know what you’re looking for and you understand your own anatomy, you’ll quickly become familiar with what’s normal and what isn’t.

When to see a professional

If you find a lump or growth on your testicle, it’s always best to get checked out by a professional.

In this situation, you will likely be examined by a doctor who is likely to arrange a testicular ultrasound scan to assess the growth.

This process involves a quick scan that can detect the presence of cancerous material or other conditions like epididymitis and testicular torsion, and is often combined with a biopsy to take a small sample of cells if required.

What does treatment typically involve?

Treatment all depends on how early the cancer is detected. Common treatments include an orchidectomy (the removal of the affected testicle), chemotherapy, or radiotherapy.

It is impossible to anticipate which treatment option is right for you without a full assessment. If you are worried about a lump on your testicle, contact your GP as soon as possible to get checked over.

If treatment is required, the earlier treatment begins with a specialist, the better chance you have of making a full recovery.

Can testicular cancer impact fertility?

Testicular cancer and its treatments can impact fertility, but the extent varies.

The affected testicle may already have reduced fertility potential, and cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy can further affect sperm production.

Some men maintain their fertility, while others may experience a temporary or permanent decrease in sperm production. If you’re concerned about the impact on fertility, speak with your consultant before starting treatment.

Sperm banking, where sperm is collected and frozen for future use, is a common method used to preserve fertility. Post-treatment, fertility can sometimes return, but it's advisable to consult with a fertility specialist for guidance on family planning after testicular cancer.

Support groups and getting help

Going through testicular cancer is difficult. Thankfully, there are support groups and networks available to make living with cancer easier.

For more information on accessing support for testicular cancer, click any of the links below:

Last updated Thursday 4 April 2024

First published on Thursday 4 April 2024