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Conditions InDepth: Testicular Cancer
by Ricker Polsdorfer, MD and Michael Jubinville, MPH
Cancer is a disease in which cells grow in an abnormal way. Normally, the cells divide in a controlled manner. If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue called a tumor forms.
A tumor can be benign or malignant. A benign tumor is not cancer and will not spread to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is cancer. Cancer cells invade and damage tissue around them. They can also enter the lymph and blood streams, spreading to other parts of the body. Testicular cancer is the development of malignant cells in one or both testicles.
Normal Anatomy and the Development of Testicular Cancer
The testicles (or testes) are a pair of male sex glands. They are located under the penis in a sac-like pouch called the scrotum. The main functions of the testicles are to produce hormones (androgens) that control sexual development, reproduction, and sperm production. Immature sperm cells migrate through a network of tiny tubules called the epididymis. Sperm cells are stored and mature in this structure. During ejaculation, sperm cells move through the vas deferens, into the urethra, and out of the body.
Cell division and cell death are a normal process in the body to replace old or damaged cells. Changes in hormones, which may or may not be affected by genetic abnormalities, cause changes in testicular cells. These changes can alter the DNA of the cells which tells them when to grow and when to stop. Normally the cells only grow enough to replace old or damaged cells but damaged DNA may cause the abnormal growth of cells, known as cancer.
Testicular cancer can start anywhere in the testicular tissue. but the most common place is in the germ cells that make sperm. Testicular cancer can spread directly to nearby structures and into abdominal cavity. The cancer can also spread to adjacent lymph nodes or blood vessels, which can carry cancer cells to other areas of the body. The most common sites for testicular cancer to spread are to lymph nodes in other parts of the body and the lungs.
Types of Testicular Cancer
Testicular cancer is characterized by where tumors start, the types of cells affected, and their appearance under a microscope. Over 90% testicular cancers are germ cell tumors. Germ cell tumors include:
Some types of testicular cancers are a mix of different types of cells.
What are the risk factors for testicular cancer?
What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?
How is testicular cancer diagnosed?
What are the treatments for testicular cancer?
Are there screening tests for testicular cancer?
How can I reduce my risk of testicular cancer?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
What is it like to live with testicular cancer?
Where can I get more information about testicular cancer?
General information about testicular cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/testicular/patient/testicular-treatment-pdq#link/_1. Updated July 7, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2017.
Testicular cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T907377/Testicular-cancer. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2017.
Testicular cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version. Available at:
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Updated November 2013. Accessed September 14, 2017.
What is testicular cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicular-cancer/about/what-is-testicular-cancer.html. Updated February 12, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2017.
What is testicular cancer? Urology Care Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 14, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 9/14/2017
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