Testicular cancer: Signs and symptoms to look out for

By Jeremy Oates, consultant urological surgeon at The Wilmslow Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

Movember is a month-long campaign that seeks to raise awareness and drive conversation around men’s health, in particular mental health and male-related cancers. 

Many men grow a moustache during the month as a fun way to raise awareness, but at the heart of the campaign is a very important message.  

Men’s health can often be an overlooked topic in the UK, a topic that we avoid engaging in for a number of reasons. Traditionally, men can find it difficult to discuss their health, be that due to embarrassment, a desire to live up to the ‘strong and silent’ stereotype, or a fear that they won’t be taken seriously. 

As part of this, I want to take this opportunity to kickstart a conversation about men’s health, and in particular, build awareness around a topic that men might find uncomfortable: testicular cancer

On the face of it, testicular cancer is one of the least-deadliest forms of cancer. According to the Movember campaign body, survival rates are as high as 95%. However, the cancer affects younger men in the UK, predominantly those aged 15-49 years of age. Each year, around 2,300 men are diagnosed with the cancer. 

Understanding the risk factors

Those considered more at risk are men who were born with undescended testes at birth, a condition that affects around 1 in 25 boys. Whilst the risk of cancer is not directly related to the condition itself, the lack of descent suggests an abnormality in the testicle that makes cancer more likely. 

Prevalence is also higher in those who have a family history of the cancer, for example if their grandfather, father or brother has contracted the disease previously. 

There are various forms of testicular cancer, the most common form being a germ cell tumour, accounting for 95% of all cases. Germ cells are cells that develop into sperm. Since most germ cells reside in the testicle, this is where tumours usually develop. 

What are the signs and symptoms?

It is important that we understand the signs and symptoms of testicular cancer. One of the most common symptoms is a painless swelling or lump in one of the testicles, which is usually the size of a pea. Whilst most lumps or swellings in the scrotum are not cancerous, it is important that you seek medical advice if you locate either.  

Other symptoms include a firmness of a testicle, a change in appearance or a sharp pain in the testicular area. If you notice any of these signs, it is important that you see a consultant. The earlier that testicular cancer is identified, the sooner treatment begins and the higher the survival rates. 

Ensure you feel for changes

Now that you know the major signs and symptoms, it is important that you know how to physically detect these changes. Self-examination is important, and perhaps the easiest way to feel for changes is when showering and washing. 

To check for changes in your scrotum, hold each testicle between your thumb and finger, and check for any unusual lumps or bumps. Your testicles should feel smooth, firm and sensitive; if you feel pain or an unusual consistency, you should visit your consultant. 

Even though many swellings and lumps are not cancerous, and will often be harmless cysts or swollen veins, it’s important to rule out testicular cancer as the cause of these changes as soon as possible with a medical professional. 

If you would like to book an appointment to discuss men’s health, or to seek advice on changes to your testicles, click here