The testes are the two oval-shaped male sex organs. Each testicle sits inside the scrotum, on either side of the penis. The testes are an important part of the male reproductive system.
This is because they produce sperm and the hormone testosterone, which plays a major role in male sexual development.
Symptoms of testicular cancer
Typical symptoms are a painless swelling or lump in one of the testes, or any change in shape or texture of the testes.
The swelling or lump can be about the size of a pea but may be larger.
Most lumps or swellings in the scrotum aren't in the testicle and aren't a sign of cancer, but they should never be ignored.
Testicular cancer can also cause other symptoms, including:
- an increase in the firmness of a testicle
- a difference between one testicle and the other
- a dull ache or sharp pain in either testicle, or your scrotum, which may come and go
- a feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
When to see your GP
See your GP if you notice a swelling, lump or any other change in either testicle.
Lumps within the scrotum can have many different causes, and testicular cancer is relatively rare. Your GP will examine you and, if they think the lump is in your testicle, they may consider cancer as a possible cause.
Research has indicated that less than 4% of scrotal lumps or swellings are cancerous.
If you do have testicular cancer, the sooner treatment begins, the greater the likelihood that you'll be cured.
If you think you might have a sexually transmitted infection and don't feel comfortable visiting your GP, you can go to your local sexual health clinic, where a healthcare professional will be able to examine you.
If testicular cancer has spread to other parts of your body, you may also experience other symptoms. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is known as metastatic cancer.
Around 5% of people with testicular cancer will experience symptoms of metastatic cancer.
Symptoms of metastatic testicular cancer can include:
- a persistent cough
- coughing or spitting up blood
- shortness of breath
- swelling and enlargement of male breasts
- a lump or swelling in your neck
- lower back pain
Causes of testicular cancer
The exact cause or causes of testicular cancer are unknown. But a number of factors have been identified that increase a man's risk of developing it. The three main risk factors are described below.
Undescended testes (cryptorchidism) is the most significant risk factor for testicular cancer.
Around 3 to 5% of boys are born with their testes inside their abdomen. They usually descend into the scrotum during the first year of life, but in some boys the testes don't descend.
Having a close relative with a history of testicular cancer or an undescended testicle increases your risk of also developing it.
Previous testicular cancer
Men who've previously been diagnosed with testicular cancer are between 4 and 12 times more likely to develop it in the other testicle.
For this reason, if you've previously been diagnosed with testicular cancer, it's very important that you examine your other testicle regularly, to detect any changes.
Treatment for testicular cancer
Treatment almost always includes the surgical removal of the affected testicle. It doesn't usually affect fertility or the ability to have sex.
The health professional looking after your care will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment.
How common is testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer, accounting for just 1% of all cancers that occur in men.
Testicular cancer is unusual compared with other cancers because it tends to affect younger men.
Although it's relatively uncommon overall, testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer to affect men between the ages of 15 and 49.
For reasons that are unclear, white men have a higher risk of developing testicular cancer than men from other ethnic groups.
Testicular cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer, and the outlook is one of the best for cancers.
In Northern Ireland 97.8% of men who are diagnosed with testicular cancer will be alive at five years after treatment.
Almost all men who are treated for the most common type of testicular tumours are cured. It's rare for the condition to return more than five years later.