Testicular cancer is a malignancy that affects the male reproductive system. This type of cancer begins in the testicles, but it can metastasize, or spread, to other parts of the body, making early detection the key to survival. There are several tests that can diagnose testicular cancer. The simplest of these is a testicular cancer exam, in which the doctor inspects the testicles visually and by touch, checking for abnormal growths.
Men afflicted with testicular cancer may show no symptoms of the disease at all. In other cases, the patient may experience signs such as enlargement of one testicle, fluid collecting within the scrotum or pain in the testicles, groin or lower back. Some men may even notice a lump in one of their testicles or experience a heavy feeling in the area that may indicate a hidden growth. Any man who experiences these symptoms should contact his doctor right away to schedule a testicular cancer exam.
During the appointment, the doctor will look at the testicles to see if there is a visible lump or growth present. If there is, the doctor may hold a light behind the scrotum to see if it will shine through the lump; if not, it may be cancerous. If no growth can be seen, the next step in the testicular cancer exam is palpation, a process in which the doctor feels the patient's testicles, again looking for abnormal growths that may indicate malignancy.
In cases where the doctor is able to locate an unusual lump during the testicular cancer exam, he should order additional testing. Blood tests measure the levels of certain components of the blood, called tumor markers. These components are present in the blood at all times, but tend to show elevated levels when testicular cancer is present. Patients with raised tumor marker levels may not have cancer, but additional tests are required to rule out malignancy.
An ultrasound testicular cancer exam can also help the doctor diagnose the condition. Ultrasound imaging can show the exact location and size of the growth and whether it is a solid or fluid-filled mass. This information alone cannot diagnose cancer, but when taken together with the results of the blood test, it can help the doctor determine if the mass is likely to be malignant.
Some types of cancer may be diagnosed via biopsy, the removal of a small portion of affected tissue for testing. The standard protocol for testicular cancer, however, is removal of the entire testicle, which may then be physically examined. Treatment options vary according to the results of that examination and tests to confirm whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Patients may undergo chemotherapy, radiation or additional surgery to remove other affected structures such as lymph nodes. If the condition is detected early enough via a monthly testicular cancer exam performed by the man or a routine one performed by a doctor, there is a greater than 95 percent chance of survival.