Lance Armstrong is known for many things in this world, not all of them being positive. However, in the middle of the whirlwind of controversy that surrounds the once honored Olympic medalist and seven-time Tour de France champion, he brought attention to a cause that many know little about, testicular cancer. He also helped to build the empire now known as LIVESTRONG (Armstrong is no longer affiliated with the organization) which raised over $500 million to support cancer survivors and served 2.5 million people affected by cancer. Testicular cancer became easier for everyone to discuss and it opened the door to important conversations.
The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2016 there will be approximately 8,720 new cases of testicular cancer in the United States. Only 380 of those patients will die of testicular cancer. While the incidence rates of testicular cancer have grown over the last several decades, it is still thought to be an uncommon cancer. Testicular cancer has an average diagnosis age of 33. Only 7% of testicular cancer patients will be children and teens and another 7% will be found in men over the age of 55, making this disease most common in younger to middle-aged men.
Testicles, also known as testes in plural form or testis in singular, play an important part in the male reproductive system producing both male hormones and sperm. They are made up of several types of cells that can morph into one or more types of cancer. Once a diagnosis of testicular cancer is made, the course of treatment will depend on the stage and type. More than 90% of testicular cancers are germ cell tumors. These tumors are made up of the cells that produce sperm. Tumors can also develop in the supportive and hormone-producing tissues (the stroma) of the testicles. This type of tumor is more rare making up less than 5% of adult testicular cancers, but they contribute to 20% of childhood testicular tumors.
Survival rates for testicular cancer are extremely high, with typical rates of 99% survival if found at stage 1. Even at advanced stages, the survival rate is still 73%. This does show, however, that early detection is still key for the best chances of a full recovery. Most testicular cancers are discovered by the patient as a lump on the side of the testis. There are some testicular cancers that will not have any symptoms until they have reached an advanced stage, though. This is why an annual well-visit should be scheduled with your doctor so they can perform routine physical exams to assess your health.
Testicular self-exams should be performed monthly to check for any abnormal lumps on the testes, surrounding areas and lymph nodes. The best time to perform this examination is just after a bath when the skin surrounding the testes is relaxed.
It is important to note that it is normal for one testis to be larger than the other. If you are performing monthly exams, you should be able to tell if one has grown in size and will be able to differentiate between normal and abnormal. Also, be aware that there is a small coiled tube, the epididymis, on the upper or middle outer side of the testis. This can sometimes feel like a small bump. Should you have any concerns, call your doctor. It's always better to be safe and aware in any situation involving the possibility of cancer.
After testicular cancer has been diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Each case is unique depending on the type and stage of your testicular cancer. Treatment options can be one or more of the following:
Always feel comfortable with your doctors to discuss all treatment options, including their side-effects, to help determine the best course of treatment for you. As your physicians, it is our number one priority to help you understand your treatment and feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the process.