Health Break | Published October 17, 2005 | Written by Tara Baney, RN, MS, AOCN

Early Detection Is Key To Overcoming Testicular Cancer

What do Lance Armstrong, John Kruk, Scott Hamilton, Tom Green, Richard Belzer and Hsing-Hsing (the Washington, D.C. panda) all have in common? They all have been diagnosed and treated for testicular cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2005, approximately 8,010 new cases of testicular cancer will be diagnosed and 390 men will die from the disease. Testicular cancer is the most common solid tumor in men who are 15 to 34 years of age. However, if testicular cancer is found in its early stages, it has a very high cure rate (greater than 90 percent).

There are very few risk or hereditary risk factors that are associated with testicular cancer. The cause is still unknown. Therefore, all men need to be aware of the risk of developing testicular cancer. The best way to check for testicular cancer is to perform a monthly testicular self-exam (TSE).

The best way to remember how to perform a TSE is by the phrase, “Stop, drop, and roll,” which coincidentally is the same lingo used to teach a fire safety technique. In the case of conducting a TSE, “Stop, drop and roll” refers to the following procedures: Stop for a few moments in the shower once a month; drop your hands to your testicles, placing your index and middle fingers under the testicles with your thumbs on top; and roll your testicle gently between your thumb and fingers. The testicle should feel smooth and have an egg-like shape with the exception being where the epididymis attaches. This is the soft, tube-like structure behind the testicle that collects and carries sperm. You need to be familiar with this structure so you won't mistake it for a suspicious lump. If you find a lump, see a doctor, preferably a urologist, right away.

All men need to be aware and perform monthly testicular self-exams. Many men diagnosed with testicular cancer have said if they only knew that they should have performed monthly testicular self-exams, they could have caught their cancer earlier and had better outcomes as a result.

Other signs of testicular cancer may include: enlargement of a testicle, feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum, pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum, or enlargement or tenderness in the chest.

Treatment for testicular cancer may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and/or observation. Once a testicular tumor has been identified, the testicle may be removed. The type of treatment will depend on the tissue type of the cancer and if the cancer has spread to other areas such as the abdomen or lungs. Often, patients undergo more than one type of treatment. Clinical trials have recently shown that high dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant may be beneficial in certain groups.

Most men have concerns regarding the effects that testicular cancer may have on fertility and sexual function. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can have an impact on a male’s ability to father children, so it is recommended for men to consider utilizing a sperm bank prior to these treatments. In most cases, however, a man’s sexual function will not be impacted due to testicular cancer.

If you would like more information regarding testicular cancer, you can explore the following Web sites: American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute; American Society of Clinical Oncology; and the Testicular Resource Center. A clinical nurse specialist in oncology is a great resource for answers to questions relating to all types of cancer.

Tara Baney is the clinical nurse specialist for the Penn State Cancer Institute at Mount Nittany Medical Center. She can be reached by calling (814) 231-7005 or email