The testicles are two small, egg-shaped glands located close to the penis. The loose skin that surrounds them is called the scrotum. Testicles contain many specialized cells, including germ cells, which make sperm, and other specialized cells that make testosterone.
Testicular cancer is a relatively rare disease. Each year, it affects about 8,500 men in the United States, many of them men between the ages of 15 and 35.
About 95 percent of testicular cancers begin in germ cells, specialized cells in the testicles that make sperm. While these tumors typically start in the testicles they also occasionally arise in the abdomen, chest, or other areas of the body, even if there’s no evidence of cancer in or near the testicles.
Two of the most common germ cell tumors are seminoma and nonseminoma.
- Seminomas make up about half of all germ cell tumors. They usually grow slowly. Our doctors can often cure early-stage seminomas because they’re less likely to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.
- Nonseminomas are often more aggressive than seminomas, and more likely to spread beyond the testicle.
About 5 percent of testicular cancers start in stromal cells, which make testosterone. However, testicular stromal tumors are often benign (not cancerous). A stromal cell tumor could also be a cancer that has spread from another part of the body (called a secondary cancer).
Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer isn’t linked to any habits, activities, or lifestyles. However, there are two important risk factors that can increase your chance of getting the disease.
- An undescended testicle Testicles drop down from the abdomen to the scrotum before you’re born. If you were born with an undescended testicle, you have a greater risk of testicular cancer, even if you’ve had surgery to the fix the issue.
- A previous testicular cancer diagnosis If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer in one of your testicles, you’re more likely to get cancer in the other one.
With recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of this cancer, most men – especially those with early-stage tumors – can expect to survive the disease. Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Sidney Kimmel Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers are among the nation’s most experienced in treating testicular cancer, caring for nearly 300 newly diagnosed with this illness each year
We use sophisticated imaging and laboratory tests to confirm your diagnosis and identify the characteristics of your tumor. Our specialists work as a team to plan the most appropriate treatment for you – typically surgery for early-stage tumors, with the addition of chemotherapy reserved for more advanced tumors.
Clinical trials exploring new approaches are also often available for men at various stages of disease, including those with untreated or relapsed advanced testicular cancer. As a comprehensive cancer center we’re also able to also provide key resources for living with testicular cancer, such as guidance on male sexual health and options for preserving fertility.