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Testicular Cancer

What Is Testicular Cancer?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 15:26

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Testicular cancer (also called cancer of the testicle, or cancer of the testis) is a malignant, or cancerous, growth of the testicle, one of the male sex organs.

Cancer of the testicle is rare, occurring most commonly in young to middle-aged men. It is very rare before puberty or in old age.

There are two basic types of testicular cancer:

  • Seminoma: Made of a single type of cell-most likely from the same type of cell that produces sperm. Makes up about 40% of testicular cancers
  • Nonseminoma: A group of cancers that consist of several different cell types. Makes up about 60 percent of testicular cancers

Other cancers affecting the testicle are extremely rare and develop from:

  • Testicular tissue
  • Lymphatic tissue (tissue associated with the lymph nodes of the immune system).

Testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in young men between the ages of 15 and 34. However, other age groups are also susceptible, so all men should be aware of its symptoms.

In the fairly recent past, testicular cancer was considered a dangerous and difficult cancer to treat. Advances in treatment have drastically altered the picture.

Today, most men diagnosed with testicular cancer-especially when diagnosed at an early stage-can expect to survive the disease. In fact, when detected early, the overall cure rate for testicular cancer is greater than 90 percent.

Even for those men with advanced testicular cancer, the cure rate is about 70 percent.

What Is Cancer?

'Cancer' is the name for a group of diseases in which certain cells in the body have changed in appearance and function. Instead of dividing and growing in a controlled and orderly way, these abnormal cells can grow out of control and form a mass or 'tumor'.

A tumor is considered benign (not cancerous) if it is limited to a few cell layers and does not invade surrounding tissues or organs. But if the tumor spreads - or has the potential to spread - to surrounding tissues or organs, it is considered malignant, or cancerous.

Testicular cancer is a disease caused by the abnormal growth and division of a certain cell type that makes up the testicle.

Nice To Know:

Most testicular cancers are found by the man himself, his wife, or his sexual partner. The majority of testicular cancers are found by accident or when doing testicular self-examination.

Nice To Know:

Q: Is a lump in the testicle always cancer?

A: Not every lump in the testicle is cancer. There could be other causes, such as infection or a non cancerous growth. But there is a high chance it may be cancer. The earliest symptoms of testicular cancer are most often pain, swelling, or hardness in the testis, or some combination of these symptoms. Sometimes, the first symptom a man will notice is a small, painless lump on the testicle. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor if a man experiences any of these symptoms.

About The Testicles

The testicles are the male sex organs. They are located behind the penis in a sac-like pouch of skin called the scrotum.

How The Testicles Develop

The testicles are formed within the abdomen, near the kidneys, early in the growth of a male fetus.

  • Hormones produced by the mother, and those produced in the testicles themselves, cause the testicles to gradually descend before birth through a tunnel in the groin called the inguinal canal.
  • At birth, the testicles have usually reached the outer surface of the body, where they hang suspended in the scrotum.

Structure of the Testicles

Within each of the testicles are:

  • Delicate coiled tubes called seminiferous tubules that produce sperm
  • The epididymis, a structure lying behind the testis where newly formed sperm mature
  • Small ducts leading to the epididymis known as the vas deferens

Each testicle is:

  • Protected by a capsule (called the tunica albuginea)
  • Attached by the spermatic cord, the structure that connects the testicle to structures in the abdomen

The spermatic cord is composed of:

  • The vas deferens, the tube that transports sperm from the epididymis to the urethra (the tube by which urine is excreted from the bladder)
  • A number of blood vessels and nerves

The Testicles and Hormone Development

The testicles produce and store sperm, but they are also the main source of male hormones. These hormones control:

  • The development of the reproductive organs
  • Male characteristics, such as body and facial hair, low voice, and a muscular body

The male sex hormone, testosterone, is produced by specialized cells (interstitial cells) between the seminiferous tubules. It then passes into the small blood vessels in the testicles and from there into the circulation.

Facts About Testicular Cancer

  • Testicular cancer usually strikes men between the ages of 15 and 35, and is one of the most common cancers in men in this age group.
  • Testicular cancer is rare; it accounts for only about 1% of all cancers in men.
  • Testicular cancer is more common in Caucasian men than in men of other ethnic groups.
  • When found and diagnosed early, testicular cancer has a cure rate of 90%.
  • It has been suggested that the risk of testicular cancer may be higher in men affected with the HIV virus (the virus that causes AIDS), but the evidence is weak and unsubstantiated so far.
  • About 7500 cases are reported annually in the USA

Testicular Cancer