Self-exams are vital to early detection of testicular cancer

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month but this type of cancer should be top of mind for young men every month.

The most prevalent form of cancer in men aged 15 to 29, testicular cancer is also one of the most treatable if detected early. There is a 97% chance of survival with early diagnosis and treatment.

Most men find testicular cancer themselves by knowing their own bodies. Regular monthly self-examination of the testicles after a warm shower or bath can help men recognize abnormalities that could be signs of cancer and lead them to quickly seek medical advice. The earlier testicular cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.

Approximately 1,100 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2017, and it is estimated that 45 will die from the disease. The incidence of testicular cancer has increased steadily over the last several decades, but the reasons for this increase are not well understood.

That’s why it’s so important for men to know what is normal for them and to be aware of the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer. Any unusual symptoms should be checked by a doctor, especially if they happen frequently and last longer than 2 to 4 weeks. The symptoms could be the result of other health conditions and not testicular cancer.

What to look for

  • A hard, painless lump on either of the testicles (not always present)
  • A change in the size, shape, tenderness or feel of the testicles or scrotum
  • Swelling or pain in the testicles or scrotum
  • A feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen or scrotum
  • A buildup of fluid in the scrotum
  • An unusual back ache that doesn’t go away
  • A soreness or sudden, unexplained growth around the pectoral muscles
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Breast soreness or growth

Risk factors

The number of men diagnosed with testicular cancer is low before puberty, increases significantly after age 14, peaks around age 30 and declines by age 60. It is more common in Caucasian men than in men of African or Asian ancestry, and it occurs most often in men with a higher socio-economic status.

The causes of testicular cancer are not known. Some men are at higher risk of developing the disease, but even in men with risk factors, very few will develop cancer. Men at higher than average risk include those with:

  • a history of cryptorchidism (undescended testicle – often as an infant or child)
  • a family history of testicular cancer
  • a personal history of testicular cancer
  • Klinefelter’s syndrome
  • Calcium deposits in the testicle
  • Tall adult height
  • Early signs of puberty (deepening voice and growth of facial and body hair at a young age)

Men with any of these risks should talk to their doctor about a personal plan for screening.

Resources:

  1. Testicular Cancer Canada https://www.testicularcancer.ngo/
  2. Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/testicular/testicular-cancer/?region=on
  3. American Cancer Society https://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicular-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html