According to the American Cancer Society; about one in every 250 men will develop testicular cancer during their lifetime. It’s a disease most common in young men, with an average age of onset at 33 years old. Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer, as was NFL punter Josh Bidwell.
Testicular cancer usually can be treated successfully, but cancer treatment may leave a man infertile. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of testicular cancer and of your options for preserving your fertility.
Testicular cancer starts in the testicle or testis, a part of the male reproductive system that produces male hormones and sperm. Signs of a testicular tumor include:
- A painless lump (most common, according to the Urology Care Foundation)
- Swelling of the testicle, with or without pain, or a feeling of weight in the scrotum
- Pain or a dull ache in the area
- Tenderness or changes in the male breast tissue
It’s vital to see your doctor right away if you experience any of these. Many men wait for months which allows the cancer to spread and makes it harder to treat.
If testicular cancer is suspected, your physician will refer you to a urologist. The urologist will ask you about your medical history and will do a physical exam. Other tests may include a testicular ultrasound, other x-rays or scans, and a blood test to check tumor markers (AFP, HCG, and LDH). Some medications and marijuana use can give false positives for HCG, so be sure to tell the urologist about your use of these.
The primary treatment is to remove the cancerous tissue with surgery. The cells are looked at after surgery to determine the cancer’s “stage” and how far it has spread. Ongoing surveillance is used in stage 0 (pre-cancerous) and sometimes in stage 1, including a physical exam, tumor marker tests, and imaging tests. The male’s testosterone levels are also tested. Radiation may be used to kill cancer cells on the testis or lymph nodes, or if it has spread to other organs. Chemotherapy may also be used if the cancer has spread or is a type that is resistant to radiation. Your urologist, surgeon, and an oncologist will work as a team to determine the best treatment plan.
The Urology Care Foundation says that losing one testicle to cancer should not change your sex drive or your fertility. However, men diagnosed with testicular cancer have a higher risk of infertility and lower testosterone than others do. You may want to consider freezing and storing your sperm, otherwise known as cryopreservation, prior to cancer treatment so you can have peace of mind knowing you can have a biological child later on. The frozen sperm may be used in IUI, intrauterine insemination, or in IVF. Learn more about how a WIN Nurse Care Manager can guide and support you in preserving your fertility.