Testicular cancer is a highly curable cancer that develops in the part of the male reproductive system known as the testes. Testicular cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 35, but it can occur in older men as well. For several decades, the incidence rate of this cancer has been increasing in the United States and many other countries. This year, an estimated 8800 men in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease.
Testicular cancers vary in type: Seminomas are a slow-growing form of testicular cancer typically found in men in their 30s and 40s and usually limited to just the testes. Non-seminomas (such as teratomas, embryonal carcinomas and choriocarcinomas) are often made up of more than one cell type and tend to grow more quickly and spread. Nearly all testicular cancers begin in the germ cells — the cells in the testicles that produce immature sperm. What causes germ cells to become abnormal and develop into cancer is not clear.
Early Detection of Testicular Cancer
As for all cancers, early detection is key. Besides going for regular medical checkups, testicular self-exams can help detect the disease early when it is highly curable. Doctors recommend that men perform the exam during or right after a warm shower or bath, which relaxes the scrotum. It is normal for one testicle to be slightly larger or hang slightly lower than the other, but other signs may be abnormal, and knowing them can help facilitate early detection. Men should take notice of any of the following signs:
- A swelling and/or lump in one or both testes (Note that not all lumps on the testicles are cancerous.)
- Pain in the testes or scrotum (There are many other conditions which may be painful but are non-cancerous.)
- A dull pain or feeling of pressure in the scrotum, lower belly or groin
When detected early, testicular cancer has one of the highest cure rates among all cancers – in fact, average five-year survival can be as high as 99%, depending on how early the cancer is detected.
Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer
Early detection, of course, is not the same as true prevention. It’s not clear what exactly causes testicular cancer, but some of the known factors that may increase your risk of testicular cancer include:
- Undescended testicle (cryptorchidism) – Men whose testicles that did not move down into the scrotum before birth are at greater risk than are men whose testicles descended normally.
- Family history of testicular cancer – especially having an identical twin with testicular cancer
- Age –Although testicular cancer can occur at any age, it tends to affect teens and younger men. Most cases occur between the ages of 15 and 40, and testicular cancer is the type of cancer found most often in men ages 20 to 34.
- Race — Testicular cancer is more common in white men than in black men. Caucasian men are 5 to 10 times more likely to develop testicular cancer than men of other races.
- Klinefelter’s syndrome – a sex chromosome disorder characterized by low levels of male hormones, sterility, breast enlargement, and small testes
- Viral infections of the testicles, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or AIDS
- Injury to the scrotum
- Activity which regularly puts pressure on the scrotum (like bicycling or horseback riding)
How Can Men Prevent Testicular Cancer?
Because there is little or nothing men can do to change most of the above risk factors, it is often thought that it is not possible to prevent testicular cancer. However, as with all cancers, there are definite steps one can take to help prevent cancer of the testes. Such steps include:
- Reducing exposure to chemical toxins. One possible cause of testicular cancer is phthalates and other endocrine disrupting compounds (hormone-mimicking chemicals) used routinely in many different household items like carpets, plastics, toiletries, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs, and in car upholstery. These chemicals are thought to be particularly harmful to male reproductive health, causing infertility, deformation of the penis, undescended testicles, and testicular cancer.
Expectant mothers should be especially vigilant, as scientists are quite certain that exposure to environmental chemicals while in the womb is to blame for rapidly rising testicular cancer rates. The abnormal changes that lead to testicular cancer happen in the first few months that the fetus is growing, and phthalates, probably the most ubiquitous of environmental chemicals, are known to affect fetal human germ cells. Experts believe these exposures might explain why the rate of this cancer has doubled in the last 35 years.
Other ways to prevent testicular cancer include general healthful measures like:
- Building up your immune system
- Eating a cancer-fighting diet
- Taking nutritional supplements such as turmeric,medicinal mushrooms and boswellia.
- Engaging in regular exercise
- Reducing stress
- Detoxifying and protecting your liver, the body’s most important cancer-fighting organ
In sum, we recommend healthful lifestyle approaches to help to build up the body nutritionally and immunologically and to make it as inhospitable to cancer as possible. For guidance in any of these areas, men can set up a no-fee telephone consultation with one of our counselors.
Image Provided by: Tommy John