An Overview of Testicular Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 31, 2021
3 min read

Cells in the body normally divide (reproduce) only when new cells are needed. Sometimes cells will divide for no reason and without order, creating a mass of tissue called a tumor. Tumors can be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Testicular cancer is a malignant tumor in a testicle. The testicles are oval-shaped sex glands in a sac of skin called the scrotum. The scrotum is located behind the penis.

This type of cancer, although relatively rare, mostly affects men between ages 15 and 35 (although it can affect males at any age), and in a man's 60s.

You can detect testicular cancer by doing a monthly testicular self-exam. Such an exam is a way that men can look for signs of cancer of the testicles. To do a self-exam, follow these steps.

  1. Do the exam after a warm shower or bath. The warmth relaxes the skin of the scrotum, making it easier to feel for anything unusual.
  2. Use both hands to examine each testicle. Place your index and middle fingers underneath the testicle and your thumbs on top. Roll the testicle between your thumbs and fingers. (It's normal for testicles to be different sizes.)
  3. As you feel the testicle, you may notice a cord-like structure on top and in back of the testicle. This structure is called the epididymis. It stores and transports sperm. Do not confuse it with a lump.
  4. Feel for any lumps. Lumps can be pea-size or larger and are often painless. If you notice a lump, contact your doctor. Also check for any change in size, shape, or consistency of the testes.
  5. You should also get a physical exam once a year.

After a while, you will know how your testicles feel and will be more alert to any changes.

Symptoms of testicular cancer include:

  • A lump in either testicle.
  • An enlarged (swollen) testicle.
  • A dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
  • A sudden gathering of fluid in the scrotum.
  • Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum.
  • Low back pain
  • Swollen breasts

If you have symptoms of testicular cancer, don't panic. Many times, changes in the testicles are not cancer. But, you should contact your doctor to find the cause of your symptoms.

During your visit, you will be asked to talk about symptoms and any illnesses you have had in the past. The doctor will feel the scrotum for lumps. Samples of blood and urine may be taken for testing. An ultrasound exam of the scrotum and its contents may be performed. (Ultrasound is a painless test that creates images by using high-frequency sound waves that are transmitted through body tissues.) You also may be given a chest X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan.

When testicular cancer is present, the testicle typically is removed. In most men, removing the testicle should not lead to problems with having children or sex. The remaining testicle will continue making sperm and the male hormone testosterone. To re-establish a normal appearance, a man may be able to have a testicular prosthesis surgically implanted in the scrotum which looks and feels like a normal testicle.

If the cancer has already spread, either radiation therapy or chemotherapy is needed.

Most cases of testicular cancer can be cured, even if the cancer has spread.