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Treatment Options for Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer is a type of cancer that commonly occurs in men between the ages of 20 and 35. About half of testicular cancers occur in men in this age range. Testicular cancer can be treated and is usually curable, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Most testicular cancer develops in germ cells, which produce sperm. The two main types of testicular tumors are seminomas and nonseminomas. Less common types of testicular cancer occur in the hormone-producing tissues of the testicles, in the cells that produce testosterone and other androgen hormones. It can also occur in the cells that support and nourish the germ cells.

Treatment for testicular cancer depends on the type of tumor and the stage of the cancer. A cancer stage refers to how far the cancer has spread from the original site in the body.

According to the ACS, these are the different approaches to treatment:

  • Surgery to remove the testicle. Depending on the stage of the cancer, surgery may include the affected lymph nodes and other areas where cancer is found. It's usually the first line of treatment.

  • Radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. It's often used after surgery to help prevent tumors from coming back. The potent X-rays are delivered by a special machine.

  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. It often follows surgery. It is also used when the testicular cancer has spread outside the testicle. Most of these medications may be injected; others may need to be swallowed.

Often treatment options are combined; for example, surgery may be followed by radiation or chemotherapy. When making treatment decisions, doctors look at many factors before recommending a course of action. In professional cyclist Lance Armstrong's case, surgery and chemotherapy were the treatments of choice. Even though the cancer already had spread to Armstrong's lungs and brain by the time he was diagnosed in 1996, he's stayed cancer-free since he received treatment.

His success story isn't rare. A man with testicular cancer that has spread to distant parts of the body when it is found has better than a 70 percent chance of beating the cancer. But, more than 99 percent of men survive when they're treated before the cancer spreads. That's why early detection is so important.

Symptoms may include a painless lump or swelling of the testicle; discomfort or pain in the testicle, scrotum, groin, or lower abdomen; changes in how the testicle feels; or sudden fluid buildup in the scrotum. If you notice any of these changes, tell your doctor right away.

Some men do testicular self-exams, but not enough research has been done yet to demonstrate that they reduce the death rate. The ACS, however, recommends that your doctor do a testicular exam as part of a routine checkup. Your doctor is the best resource for information on how to protect yourself.