Summary

Key Points

  • Testicular cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of one or both testicles.
  • Health history can affect the risk of testicular cancer.
  • Signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include swelling or discomfort in the scrotum.
  • Tests that examine the testicles and blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose testicular cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
  • Treatment for testicular cancer can cause infertility.

Testicular cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of one or both testicles.

The testicles are 2 egg-shaped glands located inside the scrotum (a sac of loose skin that lies directly below the penis). The testicles are held within the scrotum by the spermatic cord, which also contains the vas deferens and vessels and nerves of the testicles.

The testicles are the male sex glands and produce testosterone and sperm. Germ cells within the testicles produce immature sperm that travel through a network of tubules (tiny tubes) and larger tubes into the epididymis (a long coiled tube next to the testicles) where the sperm mature and are stored.

Almost all testicular cancers start in the germ cells. The two main types of testicular germ cell tumors are seminomas and nonseminomas. These 2 types grow and spread differently and are treated differently. Nonseminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas. Seminomas are more sensitive to radiation. A testicular tumor that contains both seminoma and nonseminoma cells is treated as a nonseminoma.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men 20 to 35 years old.

Risk Factors

Health history can affect the risk of testicular cancer.

Anything that increases the chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for testicular cancer include:

  • Having had an undescended testicle.
  • Having had abnormal development of the testicles.
  • Having a personal history of testicular cancer.
  • Having a family history of testicular cancer (especially in a father or brother).
  • Being white.

Screening and Detection

Tests that examine the testicles and blood are used to detect (find) and diagnose testicular cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. The testicles will be examined to check for lumps, swelling, or pain. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.

Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.

Serum tumor marker test : A procedure in which a sample of blood is examined to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs, tissues, or tumor cells in the body. Certain substances are linked to specific types of cancer when found in increased levels in the blood. These are called tumor markers. The following tumor markers are used to detect testicular cancer:

Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP).

Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG).

Tumor marker levels are measured before inguinal orchiectomy and biopsy, to help diagnose testicular cancer.

Inguinal orchiectomy: A procedure to remove the entire testicle through an incision in the groin. A tissue sample from the testicle is then viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells. (The surgeon does not cut through the scrotum into the testicle to remove a sample of tissue for biopsy, because if cancer is present, this procedure could cause it to spread into the scrotum and lymph nodes. It's important to choose a surgeon who has experience with this kind of surgery.) If cancer is found, the cell type (seminoma or nonseminoma) is determined in order to help plan treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include swelling or discomfort in the scrotum.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by testicular cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A painless lump or swelling in either testicle.
  • A change in how the testicle feels.
  • A dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin.
  • A sudden build-up of fluid in the scrotum.
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.

Treatment Options

There are different types of treatment for patients with testicular cancer.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with testicular cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Testicular tumors are divided into 3 groups, based on how well the tumors are expected to respond to treatment.

Good Prognosis

For nonseminoma, all of the following must be true:

  • The tumor is found only in the testicle or in the retroperitoneum (area outside or behind the abdominal wall); and
  • The tumor has not spread to organs other than the lungs; and
  • The levels of all the tumor markers are slightly above normal.

For seminoma, all of the following must be true:

  • The tumor has not spread to organs other than the lungs; and
  • The level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is normal. Beta-human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) may be at any level.

Intermediate Prognosis

For nonseminoma, all of the following must be true:

  • The tumor is found in one testicle only or in the retroperitoneum (area outside or behind the abdominal wall); and
  • The tumor has not spread to organs other than the lungs; and
  • The level of any one of the tumor markers is more than slightly above normal.

For seminoma, all of the following must be true:

  • The tumor has spread to organs other than the lungs; and
  • The level of AFP is normal. β-hCG and LDH may be at any level.

Poor Prognosis

For nonseminoma, at least one of the following must be true:

  • The tumor is in the center of the chest between the lungs; or
  • The tumor has spread to organs other than the lungs; or
  • The level of any one of the tumor markers is high.

There is no poor prognosis grouping for seminoma testicular tumors.

Five types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery to remove the testicle (inguinal orchiectomy) and some of the lymph nodes may be done at diagnosis and staging. (See the General Information and Stages sections of this summary.) Tumors that have spread to other places in the body may be partly or entirely removed by surgery.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

See Drugs Approved for Testicular Cancer for more information.

Surveillance

Surveillance is closely following a patient's condition without giving any treatment unless there are changes in test results. It is used to find early signs that the cancer has recurred (come back). In surveillance, patients are given certain exams and tests on a regular schedule.

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant

High-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant is a method of giving high doses of chemotherapy and replacing blood -forming cells destroyed by the cancer treatment. Stem cells (immature blood cells) are removed from the blood or bone marrow of the patient or a donor and are frozen and stored. After the chemotherapy is completed, the stored stem cells are thawed and given back to the patient through an infusion. These reinfused stem cells grow into (and restore) the body’s blood cells.

See Drugs Approved for Testicular Cancer for more information.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Men who have had testicular cancer have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other testicle. A patient is advised to regularly check the other testicle and report any unusual symptoms to a doctor right away.

Long-term clinical exams are very important. The patient will probably have check-ups frequently during the first year after surgery and less often after that.

Last Updated: 2014-12-30

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