Vine Clinic - Testicular Cancer

Every Tuesday on TheVine we’re getting real about important medical issues that concern young people today.
Doctor-in-training James Kelly is our resident health advisor. James is a registered nurse and has worked in intensive care, drug and alcohol units, sexual health and emergency. Through this, he’s been exposed to a lot of the medical issues facing young people today. In his weekly Vine Clinic column, James will create awareness and dispel medical myths, so young people can take the proactive steps needed to look after themselves and the people around them. So far we've looked at HPV, Chlamydia
Genital Herpes, Ecstasy, Acne and Valium (or, for those playing at home, val-pal). Let us know which drugs, alcohol or health issues you’d like more information on in the comments section below. Until next week, we present testicular cancer.

Guys are notoriously bad at looking after their health. Though we were all taught from a young age to examine our bodies (including our testes) for changes that may signal us to seek medical advice, I doubt many of us took that advice seriously. Testicular cancer generally affects young guys and is very curable if caught early, so this week in Vine Clinic we’re offering a refresher course for those who’ve forgotten about the risk of Testicular Cancer, and are also looking for a valid excuse to touch their balls.

The low down on testicular cancer


Testicular cancer generally presents as a painless hard lump on one of the testes, which can also give the sensation of testicular heaviness. It’s most common in guys between the ages of 20-34, but obviously these ages aren’t concrete. Most testicular cancers (around 95 per cent) are either “Seminomas” or “Non-seminomas”. Non seminomas tend to metastasize (the cancer spreads to other parts of the body) quickly, where as Seminomas tend metastasize slowly or not at all. As well, 55 per cent of testicular cancers occur on the right testicle, and you’re more likely to get testicular cancer if you’re white, have a family history of the condition, or a history of an undescended testicle.

How common is testicular cancer?


Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males between the ages of 15-35. Despite this, it’s still relatively rare, with around 700 new cases of testicular cancer diagnosed in Australia per year. This accounts for 0.6 per cent of all cancer diagnosis in Australia, and 1.1 per cent of cancers diagnosed in males. The risk of dying from testicular cancer before the age of 75 in Australia is 1:6563 (which are pretty low odds). The 5 year survival rate post testicular cancer diagnosis and treatment is between 92 and 98%, which goes to show just how treatable this cancer is if detected early.

How is it diagnosed?


Testicular cancer is generally diagnosed by ultrasound. If you notice an unusual lump on one of your testicles, your GP will send you for this scan which has close to 100 per cent sensitivity (which means if you have testicular cancer, the ultrasound should almost definitely pick it up). The doctor might also ask for some blood tests, which can help in the diagnosis of the cancer.


How is testicular cancer treated?


If you have testicular cancer, the first thing that’s going to happen is the removal of the affected testicle – this is called an orchiectomy. After the affected testicle has been removed, treatment depends on the type of testicular cancer (seminoma vs. non seminoma) and whether or not there has been any cancer spread. For seminomas, the orchiectomy can be sufficient treatment, but if it is spread then a course of radiation and/or chemotherapy may be advised. If you have a Non-seminoma, then it’s generally advised to have a course of chemotherapy after your orchiectomy because of the greater risk of spread with this kind of tumor. Remember that after your orchiectomy, you have the option of a number of prosthetic testicles, in a range of sizes and shapes so you’re not left looking lopsided.


Testicular self-examination – the how to guide


So, here are the steps on how to examine your testicles to make sure there are no abnormal lumps and bumps. Try to remember what your testicles feel like; it will help you notice any changes in them in the future.

  1. The best way to feel your testicles is when they’re relaxed, which can generally be after a warm shower or bath.
  2. To start, roll each testicle between the thumb and two first fingers.
  3. As you do this, try to feel for any lumps, bumps or hard areas on the testis. Your testicles should be able to freely move around your scrotum (or ball sack).
  4. If you think you’ve felt any abnormalities or changes to your testis, seek prompt medical advice from your local general practitioner.

- James Kelly

Image via Shutterstock.

DISCLAIMER: This article is written as guide, and although based on recent medical evidence and research, the guidance provided is no substitute for medical advice or treatment obtained from a general practitioner or any other registered medical doctor.

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