SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Testicular cancer is not common, but it occurs most often in men aged 25 to 40.
- In most cases, the only way to diagnose testicular cancer with certainty is to remove the testicle. This operation is called an orchidectomy.
- Treatment for testicular cancer usually has a good outcome and the majority of people with early stage cancer will be cured.
What is testicular cancer?
that develops in a testicle is called testicular cancer or cancer of the testis. The testicles are 2 oval glands that sit behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. They are part of the and produce and store sperm.
Usually only one testicle is affected by testicular cancer, but in some cases, both are affected. About 90 to 95% of testicular cancers start in the cells that develop into sperm, which are known as germ cells.
Anyone with a testicle can get testicular cancer. Transgender women, male-assigned non-binary people or intersex people can also get testicular cancer if they have a testicle.
In Australia, about 850 people are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year, accounting for about 1% of all cancers in men. It occurs most often in men aged 25 to 40.
Types of testicular cancer
The most common testicular cancers are called germ cell tumours. There are 2 main types:
- Seminoma tumours - which tend to develop more slowly than non-seminoma tumours. They usually occur between the ages of 25 and 45 but can also occur in older people.
- Non-seminoma tumours - which tend to develop more quickly than seminoma cancers and are more common in people in their late teens and early 20s. There are 4 main subtypes of non-seminoma tumours including teratoma, choriocarcinoma, yolk sac tumour and embryonal carcinoma.
Sometimes testicular cancer can include a mix of seminoma cells and non-seminoma cells, or a combination of the different subtypes of non-seminoma cells, which are called mixed tumours.
A small number of testicular tumours start in cells that make up the supportive (structural) and hormone-producing tissue of the testicles.
Some testicular cancers begin as a condition called intratubular germ cell neoplasia (ITGCN or IGCN). About 5 to 10% of people diagnosed with testicular cancer have ITGCN. It is not cancer, but it has about a 50% risk of turning into testicular cancer within 5 years.
Signs and symptoms of testicular cancer
In some people, testicular cancer does not cause any noticeable symptoms, and it may be found during tests for other conditions. When there are symptoms, the most common ones include:
- a swelling or a lump in the testicle (usually painless)
- a change in a testicle's size or shape (such as hardness or swelling).
Occasionally, testicular cancer may cause other symptoms such as:
- a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- a feeling of unevenness between the testicles
- pain or ache in the lower belly (lower abdomen), testicle or scrotum
- enlargement or tenderness of the breast tissue
- back pain
- stomach aches.
Not everyone with these symptoms has testicular cancer. If you have any of these symptoms or are worried, always see your doctor.
Risk factors for testicular cancer
There are some things that can make it more likely to develop testicular cancer. These are called risk factors and they include:
- Personal history - if you have previously had cancer in one testicle, you are more likely to develop cancer in the other testicle.
- Family history - if your father or brother had testicular cancer, you are slightly more at risk of cancer.
- If you were born with .
- - having difficulty conceiving a baby can be associated with testicular cancer.
- - there is some evidence that people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) have an increased risk of testicular cancer.
- Some congenital defects - people born with an abnormality of the penis called hypospadias are at increased risk of developing testicular cancer. There may also be an increased risk for people born with a lump in the groin known as an , even when it has been repaired.
Having these risk factors doesn't mean you will develop testicular cancer. Often there is no clear reason for getting testicular cancer. If you are worried about your risk factors, ask your doctor for advice.
Tests for testicular cancer
Your doctor may do some tests to check for testicular cancer:
- to show if a tumour is present and how large it is.
- to check your general health and how well your organs are working.
The only way to be sure of the diagnosis is to surgically remove the affected testicle and examine it in a laboratory. The operation, called an orchidectomy, takes about 30 minutes.
In most cases, the surgeon needs to remove only one testicle. It is rare for both testicles to be affected by cancer at the same time. You may decide to replace the removed testicle with an artificial one called a prosthesis.
Your doctor might ask you to have further tests. These can include:
- use x-rays to take pictures of the inside of your body and then compiles them into one detailed, cross-sectional picture.
- use a powerful magnet and radio waves to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
- use an injection of a glucose (sugar) solution to help cancer cells show up more brightly on the scan.
Stages of testicular cancer
The stage of a cancer means how far it has grown in your body. The most common way doctors decide on a stage for testicular cancer is the TNM system (Tumour-Nodes-Metastasis). This system describes:
- if the cancer is only in the testicle or has spread into nearby blood vessels or tissue
- if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes
- if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Another way of staging cancer is with numbers. Stage 1 means that the cancer is found only in the testicle (early-stage cancer). Stage 2 and above mean that the cancer has spread outside the testicle to the lymph nodes in the abdomen or pelvis, or to other areas of the body.
Prognosis and survival rates for testicular cancer
When someone is diagnosed with testicular cancer, their doctor will give them a prognosis. A prognosis is the doctor's opinion of how likely the cancer will spread and the chances of getting better. A prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, test results and a person's age, fitness and medical history.
Testicular cancer has the highest survival rates of any cancer (other than common ). Regular monitoring is a major factor in ensuring good outcomes, so it's vital that you attend all your follow-up appointments.
If you have testicular cancer, your doctor will talk to you about your individual situation when working out your prognosis. Every person's experience is different, and there is support available to you.
Treatment for testicular cancer
If you had an orchidectomy and the cancer was completely removed along with your testicle, you may not need further treatment. Instead, you will have surveillance, which is a schedule of regular blood tests, chest and CT scans for 5 to 10 years. This will help find if there is any cancer remaining or if the cancer has come back.
is the treatment of cancer with drugs that aim to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. Your treatment team may assess that there is a moderate risk of the cancer spreading or returning. In this case, a single dose (or 2 cycles) of chemotherapy will be recommended.
In rare cases, when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy may be given before surgery as the main treatment.
uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill cancer cells or damage them so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. Radiation therapy is sometimes given to people with seminoma cancer after surgery to prevent the cancer from coming back or to destroy any cancer cells that may have already spread from the cancer to the lymph nodes.
Surgery to remove lymph nodes
In some cases, an operation called a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND or lymphadenectomy) is done to remove lymph nodes at the back of the abdomen that may contain cancer cells.
- Non-seminoma cancer - Your doctors may recommend an RPLND if scans after chemotherapy show that the lymph nodes have not returned to normal size, as this may mean that they still contain cancer cells.
- Seminoma cancer - Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can usually destroy seminoma cancer cells in the lymph nodes, so an RPLND is rarely used. The operation may be offered for advanced seminoma cancer if there are no other treatment options.
Side effects of treatments for testicular cancer
All cancer treatments can have . Your treatment team will discuss these with you before you start treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any side effects you are experiencing. Some side effects can be upsetting and difficult, but there is help if you need it. Call Cancer Council Tel. or email to speak with a caring cancer nurse for support.
Managing lifestyle changes from testicular cancer
Sexuality and intimacy
Having testicular cancer and treatment can change the way you feel about yourself, other people, relationships and . These changes can be very upsetting and hard to talk about. Doctors and nurses are very understanding and can give you support. You can ask for a referral to a counsellor or therapist who specialises in body image, sex and relationships.
The removal of one testicle won't affect erections or orgasms but it can affect testosterone levels. RPLND may damage nerves, causing semen to travel backwards into the bladder instead of forwards out of the penis. This still feels like an orgasm, but no semen will come out.
Chemotherapy drugs may remain in your system and be present in your semen for a few days. For a few weeks after chemotherapy, you may have some trouble getting and keeping an erection.
Radiation therapy to the pelvis may temporarily stop semen production. You will still feel the sensations of an orgasm but will ejaculate little or no semen (dry orgasm). In most cases, semen production will return to normal after a few months.
Some tips for managing changes to your sexuality include:
- Protect your partner from any drugs in your semen by using barrier contraception, such as condoms, during chemotherapy and for a number of days afterwards, as advised by your doctor.
- Accept that tiredness and worry may lower your interest in sex and remember that sex drive usually returns when treatment ends.
- Be gentle the first few times you are sexually active after treatment.
- Start with touching and tell your partner what feels good.
- Talk openly with your doctor or sexual health counsellor about any challenges. They may be able to help and reassure you.
Most people who have had one testicle removed can go on to have children naturally. If you have had both testicles removed (rarely required), you will no longer produce sperm and will be infertile. People who experience retrograde ejaculation after retroperitoneal lymph node dissection will also be infertile.
Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can temporarily decrease sperm production and cause unhealthy sperm. It may take one or more years before there are enough healthy sperm to conceive a child. In some cases, infertility may be permanent.
Some tips for managing changes to your fertility include:
- Use sperm banking to store sperm before cancer treatment for use at a later date. Samples can be stored for many years.
- Avoid until sperm are healthy again by using contraception for 6 to 12 months after chemotherapy or radiation therapy, as advised by your doctor. You may need a sperm analysis test to determine this.
- If infertility appears to be permanent, talk to a counsellor or family member about how you are feeling. Infertility can be very upsetting for you and your family, and you may have many mixed emotions about the future.
Any type of cancer treatment can change the way you feel about yourself. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do, particularly if your body has changed physically. Some people find that their sense of identity or masculinity is affected by their cancer experience.
Give yourself time to get used to any changes to your body. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing on the parts of you that have changed. Try talking to other men who have had a similar experience and let your partner, if you have one, know how you are feeling. You may also find it helpful to talk to a psychologist if you are having trouble adjusting to any changes.
If you continue to be concerned about your appearance, you may wish to speak to your medical team about getting an artificial testicle (prosthesis).
Living with advanced cancer
Most people continue to have treatment for advanced cancer as part of palliative care, as it helps manage the cancer and improve their day-to-day lives. Many people think that palliative care is for people who are dying but palliative care is for any stage of advanced cancer. There are doctors, nurses and other people who specialise in palliative care.
Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or another type of treatment. It can help in these ways:
- slow down how fast the cancer is growing
- shrink the cancer
- help you to live more comfortably by managing symptoms, like pain.
Treatment depends on:
- where the cancer started
- how far it has spread
- your general health
- your preferences and what you want to do.
Ask your doctor about treatment and palliative care services that may help you.
Support for carers, family and friends
Caring for someone with cancer can be difficult sometimes. If you are caring for someone with testicular cancer, these organisations can help: