Testicular cancer is cancer that happens in the testicle. The testicles produce sperm and are part of the male reproductive system (the parts of the body involved in making babies). They also produce the hormone testosterone when young men are going through puberty – the time when your body develops and changes as you become an adult.
Types of testicular cancer
The main types of testicular cancer are non-seminoma, which is more common in young people, and seminoma. If you or your child has been diagnosed with a different type of testicular cancer, talk to your specialist for more information about that particular type of cancer and its treatment.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptoms of testicular cancer are a painless lump or swelling in the testicle, a painful or heavy feeling in the scrotum (the sac that holds the testicles) or a change in the shape or feeling of the testicle.
How is it diagnosed?
If your GP thinks you need to have further tests, you’ll normally be sent to the hospital where a specialist will give you an ultrasound scan of your scrotum and testicles to check for anything unusual. You’ll normally also have blood tests to check if any hormones produced by testicular cancer, known as ‘markers’, are present.
If the tests show that you, or your child, are likely to have testicular cancer – in the form of a tumour, or lump – you will normally have an operation to confirm the diagnosis. The operation will remove the whole of the affected testicle and is known as an orchidectomy.
You may have further tests if your specialist thinks your cancer might have spread. The specialist will be able to work out the stage of cancer from these tests. The stage is the size of the tumour and whether it has spread to other parts of your body.
How is it treated?
Treatment for testicular cancer normally involves surgery and chemotherapy. Your exact treatment will depend on the stage and type of your tumour though, so it’s best to talk to your specialist for further information.
You’ll normally have the affected testicle removed during an orchidectomy while going through diagnosis. If you’ve only had one testicle removed, this won’t affect you or your child’s ability to have children. It’s not common to have both testicles removed, but if they are, you won’t be able to have children. In both cases you’ll still be able to have sex.
Chemotherapy, which uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells, is usually given as an injection or through a drip every 3–4 weeks for four or more sessions of treatment. A course of radiotherapy, where radiation is used to kill cancer cells, may also be used.
What happens after treatment?
Your specialists will do everything they can to keep your ability – or your son’s ability – to have children. But the most important thing will need to be fighting the cancer.
If your or your child’s treatment for testicular cancer does affect your or their ability to have children, it’s important you talk this through with your specialist or nurse.
You will still need to attend an outpatient clinic regularly so your specialist can check your progress and make sure your cancer hasn’t come back. This is known as surveillance, or monitoring.
Many people don’t have long-term health problems following treatment, but some do. Talk to your specialist about the potential long-term side effects of your treatment.
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