Understand the Basics
Testicular cancer begins when healthy cells in a testicle change and grow out of control, forming a tumor. Men whose testicles did not descend into the scrotum at birth, a condition known as cryptorchidism, are at an increased risk for testicular cancer. Bringing the testicle down into the scrotum with surgery doesn’t decrease the risk of developing testicular cancer but it does make it easier to examine the testicle and find any abnormalities early. Other established risk factors include a family history or personal history of testicular cancer.
Make Self Checks Part of Your Routine
Regular self-exams are easy and can help men to recognize if something might be wrong. To self-exam, an individual should hold each testicle separately between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands and roll it gently, feeling for hard lumps or rounded masses, as well as changes in shape or size. In some cases of advanced testicular cancer, or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, men can experience back pain, abdominal pain, cough, or unintentional weight loss. Any man who feels a testicular mass or has these symptoms should seek medical attention.
Know What to Expect
Most men with testicular cancer, even those with advanced disease, can be cured with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these treatments. Surveillance may be appropriate for some men after the diagnosis has been established. In the Urologic Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, we work in collaboration with experts from the RWJBarnabas Health oncology service line to offer a tailored treatment plan for patients, which may include clinical trials. After treatment and/or surgery, the majority of men return back to a normal healthy life with unaffected sexual function and fertility being preserved in most.
Break the Stigma and Start Talking
Some men might be nervous or uncomfortable with approaching their doctors—or anyone—about the subject of testicular cancer. Not speaking up or waiting and hoping that a testicular mass will simply go away on its own is dangerous and can lead to cancer affecting other parts of the body. Additionally, many men may feel their masculinity being threatened by both the diagnosis and any necessary treatments including the removal of a testicle. Don’t be embarrassed to reach out to a doctor if something doesn’t feel right or to communicate about health-related issues.
Thomas L. Jang, MD, MPH, FACS is associate chief of Urologic Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, an associate professor of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the program director for the Urology Residency Program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.