How to Catch Testicular Cancer Early
BE AWARE OF YOUR HEALTH
Thanks to a number of great initiatives, November is when we shine a spotlight on men’s health. While your well-being is important year round, programs like Movember encourage men to take a serious look at their health, both physical and mental, and provide techniques for doing just that.
For a disease like testicular cancer, it’s especially important. It is the most common cancer in young Canadian men aged 15-35, but when caught and treated early the average survival rate is 97 percent, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your health and talk to your health care practitioner about any questions or concerns. The rate of men diagnosed with testicular cancer has doubled in the last 50 years, so knowing your risk factors and seeking early treatment is key.
WHAT IS TESTICULAR CANCER?
Testicular cancer starts as an abnormal growth or tumour that develops in the cells of one or both of the testicles. These cells can change and no longer grow or behave normally, leading to benign or cancerous tumours. There are several types of testicular cancer, but the most common is a germ cell tumour.
WHO IS AT RISK?
An estimated 1,050 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in Canada in 2015, with Alberta having more incidences compared to the other provinces and territories.
Well-documented risk factors for this disease include:
- Men from 15-40 years.
- Men with a family history of cancer, such as a brother or father diagnosed with testicular cancer.
- Men who have had a previous occurrence of testicular cancer.
- Men who have undescended testes at birth.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR?
First, it’s important to find out what’s normal for you. Find a warm environment and roll your testicles between your thumb and fingers to check for lumps or swelling. They should be smooth, firm and comfortable to touch. It’s normal if one testicle is slightly bigger than the other, or if one hangs lower than the other.
The following are signs of abnormalities:
- Swelling or lumps
- Pain to the touch, or generalized pain
- Testicles feel heavier than usual or have changed in shape or size
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU FIND SOMETHING?
Most lumps and bumps on your testicles are not cancer, but testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer and can often be cured, if diagnosed early. If something doesn’t feel right, talk to your doctor.
If your doctor determines there is an abnormality, he or she may send you for a screening exam. An ultrasound is the best and quickest way to see testicular masses and in most cases the diagnosis is pretty straight forward. For more information on the preparation and procedure for this scan, please visit the Scrotum Ultrasound exam page.
After an ultrasound has confirmed a diagnosis, a Computed Tomography (CT) scan is often requested to check for any metastatic lesions, most commonly in the lymph nodes. After treatment, repeated CT scans may again be requested, along with blood tests to check for certain hormones, to examine the response to treatment.
Alberta Health Services (2016) Testicular Germ Cell Tumours. Clinical Practice Guideline, Version 7. March.
Coursey Moreno, C., et al. (2015) “Testicular Tumors: What Radiologists Need to Know — Differential Diagnosis, Staging, and Management” RadioGraphics 35 (2): 400-415