Testicular cancer represents just 1 percent of all cancers in men, but is the most common cancer in young men. Men are in crisis. They are dying too young. So this November, along with other organisations around the world, we’re focusing on men’s well-being to raise awareness about men’s health and how they can live longer, healthier lives. This week we focus on testicular cancer.

Testicles 101

Situated in the scrotum (sac), the testicles are two oval glands that produce male sex hormones and sperm.

What is testicular cancer?

It’s a disease in which cells in one or both testicles become malignant (cancerous). It is not contagious and cannot spread from one person to another. Although it accounts for just one percent of cancers in South African men, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 39. And it’s these younger men who, while being acutely aware of the contents of their boxers, are oblivious to the dangers that can lurk there.

Are you at risk of testicular cancer?

While the exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown, there are several known risk factors – some that can be controlled (such as lifestyle), others like race and age, cannot. However any male, whether healthy or with fewer risks than others, can get testicular cancer. For example, a man whose testicles did not drop down into the scrotum by the time he started puberty is three times more likely to get testicular cancer than his unaffected counterpart; a man with a low concentration or lazy movement of semen is also more likely to develop testicular cancer. It runs in families too – if your dad had cancer of the testicles, you’re four times more likely to develop it, but if your brother had it, you’re eight times more likely to be affected.

What are the symptoms?

  • A lump or swelling in the testicle is the most common symptom. The lump could be as small as a pea, but is often larger. Only four percent of lumps are actually cancerous – but it’s still definitely worth getting checked out.
  • A heavy scrotum. It’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger or hang lower than the other, but a noticeable change in size or weight on one side may indicate that something is wrong.
  • A sharp pain in the testicle or scrotum is the first indicator for 20 percent of patients, although testicular cancer is not usually painful.
  • Changes in testicle shape or texture.
  • Backache, dull ache in the lower tummy and lumps in the collarbone or neckcould indicate that the cancer has spread to lymph glands in other parts of the body. Other symptoms, such as tender breasts, could also indicate that the cancer has spread.

Treatment for testicular cancer

There are three types of standard treatment:

  1. Surgery to remove the affected testicle. This is usually done through an incision in the groin and is called a radical inguinal orchidectomy. This usually does not affect the man’s ability to get an erection and to produce sperm (unless both testicles have been removed). For cosmetic purposes, a prosthesis (artificial testicle) can be placed in the scrotum during or after the procedure.
  2. Radiation therapy. High energy rays are used to kill the cancer cells and shrink tumours.
  3. Chemotherapy. This is usually given after surgery to destroy cancerous cells that may remain in the body. (Chemotherapy may also be the initial treatment if the cancer has already spread.)

The prognosis

Luckily, testicular cancer is treatable, even if it has spread, and the chances of survival are high. Just two per cent of affected men don’t survive the first five years after diagnosis.

Our advice?

Start examining your testicles soon after puberty. Once a month is enough,

preferably after a bath or shower. Take responsibility for your body. You know it best. If something doesn’t feel right, have it checked.

Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Cancer.net
  2. CANSA. http://www.cansa.org.za/mens-health/
  3. Mayo Clinic
  4. National Cancer Institute

Photo credits

  1. Image courtesy of SolGar / Pixabay.com