Is Testicular Cancer Curable?
Why a Diagnosis of Testicular Cancer Need Not Set Alarm Bells Ringing
The testes are a pair of male sex glands located just beneath the penis and is encased in a loose fold of skin - the scrotum, and are responsible for producing testosterone - the male sex hormone, and for manufacturing sperms which are mobile male sex cells. Testicular cancer occurs when some of these sperm manufacturing and testosterone-secreting cells start dividing uncontrollably and produce a tumorous lump of tissue.
What Testicular Cancer Statistics Say
Unlike most other cancers, a malignancy of the testes is curable and afflicted individuals have a very high survival rate – almost 100 percent if detected early and is confined to the testes, and around 98 percent if cancer has metastasized to other organs of the body.
Testicular cancer occurs mostly within the age group of 20 to 35 years, though it is also known to happen in elderly males. It is not as prevalent as other cancers and only one in 300 risk developing a malignancy in the testes. The chances of succumbing to the cancer is just one in 5000 and statistics have estimated just under 380 to be dying of the malignancy in infected 8000 adults.
The Stage-Wise Growth of Testicular Cancer
Though mere mention of the word 'cancer' exacerbates fears of dying a slow and painful death, the prognosis for testicular cancer is actually favorable if the cancer is detected in its earliest stages.
- In stage 1 cancer, the malignancy remains trapped in the testes growing asymptomatically. The first and perhaps the only visible sign of cancer could be a painless lump on one or both testicles. Sometimes, this is accompanied by a dull ache and fluid accumulation within the scrotal folds which cause the testes to swell.
- In stage 2 cancer, lymph nodes become affected and pain may radiate to the groin and buttocks. This is the stage marked by the invasion of cancer cells into the bean shaped lymphatic nodes which are collections of white blood cells.
- In stage 3 cancer, fragments of tumor tissue travel through the body’s lymphatic system to invade other organs, most notably the lungs, liver and the brain or spinal cord.
Chances of Survival Are Higher in Less Invasive Seminoma Cancer
Nearly 90 percent of testicular cancers show up as seminomas which is a form of cancer that afflicts the germ cells which create mature sperm cells within coiled tubules in the testes. This form of cancer that produces germ cell tumors is very slow in developing and usually occurs in males averaging 33 years. Seminomas are less likely to invade tissues outside the scrotal sac and hence remain confined to the testes for the most part. This singular trait of seminoma cancer is responsible for boosting the survival rate of affected individuals.
Seminoma Cancers Are Mostly Confined to the Testes and Are Curable
The stage 1 seminoma cancer stays put within the testes (usually affecting only one testicle) and is detectable through a tumor marker called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG). HCG is a type of complex protein which appears in the blood serum in highly elevated levels whenever seminoma tumors become active in the testes. Blood tests for tumor marking, chest X-rays and CT scans enable a detailed assessment of the status of the tumor after its existence is revealed through ultrasound. Detection in stage 1 almost guarantees full recovery through surgery and associated therapies.
Metastatic testicular cancer, one that would invade the lymphatic system and possibly other organ systems in stages 2 and 3 is also curable with a reassuring 98% survival rate.
Early Detection of Testicular Cancer Holds the Key to Survival
Men within the age group of 20 to 35 years are more prone to testicular cancer. If you belong to this group, a simple self-examination may be sufficient to allay fears and detect cancer. The most likely symptoms include:
- Testicular pain
- Discomfort or heaviness in scrotum
- Fluid filling the scrotal sac
- Pain in the groin
- Pain in the lower back
Self-examination involves cupping the testicular sac in the small of your hand and using the thumb and opposing fingers of the other hand to roll and move the glands from side to side to feel the surface of the testes for projections of lumps. Normal testes will feel rubbery and spongy when pressed and there should be no hardness like a nut. The epididymis, an aggregation of coiled sperm collecting tubules on the central surface of the testes will feel like a raised ridge and should not be mistaken for a tumor.
If you feel that one or both testicles appear abnormal and there is evidence of swelling or pain, you may need expert medical advice. The doctor, in addition to a physical examination of the testes, may also do an ultrasound scan which would reveal the softer inner tissue of the testes in greater detail to confirm the presence of a tumor. Testicular self-examination and early detection increase a person’s chances of surviving the malignancy.
Risk Factors That Make a Person Prone to Testicular Cancer
Sometimes, factors that are beyond the immediate control of individuals could make them prone to developing cancer in the testes. Testicular cancer may appear in the family’s medical history having affected a parent, grandparent or sibling. Although the individual may have already undergone surgery for cancer in one testicle, new cancer might appear in the healthy one. It is also possible that a birth defect might have caused the testes to remain within the groin without descending into the scrotal sac.
All these conditions predispose the individual to testicular cancer. For this reason, it is advisable to probe one’s personal and family history to assess the chances of developing testicular cancer. Even if risk factors muddy the waters and prevention is ruled out, the onus is on the individual to detect and report signs and symptoms that point to testicular cancer to access early treatment.
Treating Testicular Cancer With Greater Success
Once the symptoms correlate to testicular cancer, a panel of doctors involving specialists in general medicine, urology and oncology will discuss and decide ways to tackle the malignancy aggressively. The staging of cancer will be the decisive factor paving the way for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Surgery: Getting rid of the affected testicle surgically through an inguinal orchiectomy operation removes the source of the distress but does not completely eliminate the risk of cancer spreading to other regions. Such risks are minimized through chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: The gold standard of testicular cancer treatment is the BEP chemotherapy regimen which combines Cisplatin with two more drugs to attack and eliminate testicular tumor cells. Such treatment becomes the norm where cancer is seen to have invaded the lymphatic ducts and blood vessels.
Radiation: This is usually followed by testicular surgery and is rarely performed in isolation. It is combined with chemotherapy to weaken and destroy cancerous growths within lymph nodes or tissues in the lung, liver, brain or spinal cord.
Fortunately, incidences of testicular cancer are pretty rare. All what a man has to do is to notice changes in the shape and size of testicles and report abnormalities to a qualified doctor as quickly as possible. The fact that cancerous cells have spread outside the scrotal sac becomes immaterial as refined technology has made it possible to cure even the stage III testicular cancer with better long term results.