Testicular cancer

Each year in the UK, around 2,100 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Key facts:

  • Incidence rates of testicular cancer are increasing worldwide in white men.
  • It usually affects young or middle-aged men.
  • Treatment for testicular cancer is very effective and nearly all men are cured.
  • Like other cancers, it isn't infectious and can't be passed on to other people.

Symptoms of testicular cancer

The most common symptom is a lump in a testicle. But there may also be other symptoms, depending on whether the cancer has spread outside the testicle.

Symptoms can include:
  • swelling or a lump in a testicle, which is usually painless - occasionally the swelling may suddenly increase in size and become painful
  • a dull ache or pain, or heaviness in the scrotum.

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, there may be some of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the back, groin, or lower abdomen - this can be caused by the spread of the cancer to lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen.
  • A cough, breathlessness or difficulty swallowing if lymph nodes in the chest area are affected. Rarely, if the cancer has spread to the lungs, coughing and breathlessness may be the main symptoms.
  • Nipple/breast tenderness or breast swelling (gynaecomastia) - this isn't common but can be caused by hormones produced by the cancer.

Testicular self-examination

Testicular cancer is usually curable. It's also easier to treat if it's found early. From puberty onwards, it's important that men check their testicles regularly (once a month) for anything unusual like a lump or swelling. When you do this, you'll soon get to know what feels normal for you.

The best time to check your testicles is during or right after a warm bath or shower, when the scrotal skin is relaxed. Hold your scrotum in the palm of your hand, and use your fingers and thumb to examine each testicle. Feel for lumps, anything unusual, or differences between your testicles.

It's normal for the testicles to be slightly different in size and for one to hang lower than the other. A normal testicle should feel smooth and firm (but not hard).

The epididymis (tube that carries sperm) lies at the top of the back part of each testicle. It feels like a soft, coiled tube. It's not uncommon to get harmless cysts or benign lumps in the epididymis.

Lumps or swellings can be caused by other conditions, and most lumps aren't cancer. But it's very important that you have anything unusual checked by your doctor as soon as possible.

Doctors are used to dealing with problems like this on a regular basis. Remember that testicular cancer is nearly always curable, particularly when it's found and treated early.

If you feel embarrassed about seeing your GP, you can go to your local sexual health clinic. The details will be in the health section of your local phone book, or you can get them from NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or NHS 24in Scotland on 08454 242424.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

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