What are the testicles?
The testicles (also called the testes or gonads) are the male sex glands. They are located behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. The testicles produce and store sperm, and they are also the body's main source of male hormones. These hormones control the development of the reproductive organs and other male characteristics, such as body and facial hair, low voice, and wide shoulders.
Testicular cancer occurs in the testicles (testes), which are located inside the scrotum, a loose bag of skin underneath the penis. The testicles produce male sex hormones and sperm for reproduction.
Compared with other types of cancer, testicular cancer is rare. But testicular cancer is the most common cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 34.
Testicular cancer is highly treatable, even when cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Depending on the type and stage of testicular cancer, you may receive one of several treatments, or a combination. Regular testicular self-examinations can help identify growths early, when the chance for successful treatment of testicular cancer is highest.
Risk factorsFactors that may increase your risk of testicular cancer include: -
- An undescended testicle (cryptorchidism). The testes form in the abdominal area during fetal development and usually descend into the scrotum before birth. Men who have a testicle that never descended are at greater risk of testicular cancer than are men whose testicles descended normally. The risk remains even if the testicle has been surgically relocated to the scrotum. Still, the majority of men who develop testicular cancer don't have a history of undescended testicles.
- Abnormal testicle development. Conditions that cause testicles to develop abnormally, such as Klinefelter's syndrome, may increase your risk of testicular cancer.
- Family history. If family members have had testicular cancer, you may have an increased risk.
- Age. Testicular cancer affects teens and younger men, particularly those between ages 15 and 34. However, it can occur at any age.
- Race. Testicular cancer is more common in white men than in black men.
Symptoms of Testicular CancerTesticular cancer can cause a number of symptoms. Men should look for these warning signs: -
- lump in either testicle
- enlargement of a testicle
- a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- a dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin
- a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
- enlargement or tenderness of the breasts.
CausesIt's not clear what causes testicular cancer in most cases. Doctors know that testicular cancer occurs when healthy cells in a testicle become altered. Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way to keep your body functioning normally. But sometimes some cells develop abnormalities, causing this growth to get out of control — these cancer cells continue dividing even when new cells aren't needed. The accumulating cells form a mass in the testicle.
Nearly all testicular cancers begin in the germ cells — the cells in the testicles that produce immature sperm. What causes germ cells to become abnormal and develop into cancer isn't known.
Treatment of Testicular CancerSurgery
In most cases, surgery is done to remove the testicle. Sometimes, it may also be necessary to remove lymph nodes in the abdomen. In addition, tumors that may have spread to other parts of the body may be partly or entirely removed by surgery.
In radiation therapy (also called x-ray therapy, radiotherapy, cobalt treatment or irradiation), high-energy rays are used to damage cancer cells and stop their growth. Like surgery, radiation therapy is a local treatment; it affects only the cells in the treated area. Patients usually receive radiation therapy in an outpatient clinic.
Seminomas are highly sensitive to radiation. Following surgery, men with seminomas generally have radiation therapy to their abdominal lymph nodes.
Nonseminomas are not sensitive to radiation. Patients with this type of cancer need other types of treatment.
The use of drugs to treat cancer is called chemotherapy. Anticancer drugs are recommended when there are signs that the cancer has spread. Also, chemotherapy is sometimes used if the doctor suspects that undetected cancer cells may remain in the body after surgery or radiation. The use of anticancer drugs following surgery for an early stage of cancer is known as adjuvant therapy.
Chemotherapy may be given by mouth or by injection into a muscle or blood vessel. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment - the drugs enter the bloodstream and reach cells all over the body. Depending on the specific drugs and the patient's general condition, chemotherapy may be taken as an outpatient, at the doctor's office or at home. Sometimes, the person must be hospitalized for a period of time so that the effects of the treatment can be watched.
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