Around 2300 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer every year, with the number of cases doubling in the last 50 years.
To coincide with Men’s Health Week, in this blog we’ll share some information about testicular cancer, and how you can reduce your risk.
Testicular cancer starts in one of your testicles, the male sex organs on either side of your penis. These are contained in the loose bag of skin called your scrotum. Your testicles make sperm and the male hormone testosterone. Most testicular cancers start in the cells of the testes producing sperm, known as germ cells.
Testicular cancer develops when healthy cells in your testicle grow out of control. All body cells naturally divide, but they should do so in an orderly way. In the case of cancer, the cells carry on dividing even when new cells aren’t needed. These cells then form a tumour.
Testicular cancer is classified as seminoma or non-seminoma. Non-seminoma tumours tend to grow more slowly, and are more likely to spread around the body to the lymph nodes than seminomas. Once the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it’s more difficult to treat.
Testicular cancer can occur at any age, but it’s most commonly encountered between the ages of 15 and the early 50’s. So although it’s a relatively uncommon cancer, it tends to affect younger rather than older men.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a lump or swelling in the scrotum. You may also feel a dull ache, heavy feeling or pain, or lower back pain.
It’s incredibly important to regularly check your testicles from puberty onwards. Most men with testicular cancer recover, but it’s much easier to treat when diagnosed early. Correctly called testicular self-examination, if you do it regularly you’ll come to know what feels normal for you.
To examine yourself, hold your scrotum in your palm and use your fingers and thumb to feel for any swellings, changes, or any new differences in shape or texture between your testicles. A healthy testicle should feel smooth and firm, but not hard. There’s a soft tube at the back of each testicle, called your epididymis, so don’t be alarmed if you feel this. It’s perfectly normal for your testicles to differ in size and for one to sit lower than the other.
If you feel anything unusual, have your GP check it out as soon as possible – but remember only around 4% of lumps turn out to be cancer.
Testicular cancer is usually diagnosed by removing a testicle to analyse the tissue. This shouldn’t affect your libido or your ability to father a child.
No one factor is behind the development of testicular cancer. Genetics are believed to play a role, with several genetic variants thought to play a part in susceptibility.
Having had an undescended testicle as a child is also a risk factor. Up to 6% of baby boys are born with their testicles still inside their abdomen. If they don’t naturally descend into the scrotum early on in life, this increases testicular cancer risk around three-fold.
Cells dividing too quickly should be picked up and destroyed by your immune system, but this will only happen if the immune system is healthy. If it isn’t functioning properly, it may allow these fast-dividing cells to multiply out of control.
Many potential factors can cause cells to multiply too quickly in the first place by damaging their DNA. These include bacteria, viruses, toxic chemicals and metals from the environment, and free radicals naturally produced during energy generation by your body’s cells. These free radicals can damage cells so they should ideally be neutralised by antioxidants obtained from colourful fruit and vegetables. If antioxidants are in short supply, rogue cells can develop.
So a combination of reducing exposure to those substances which can damage cells, supporting your immune system and consuming plenty of foods rich in antioxidants can mean you’re less susceptible to developing cell abnormalities and for them to remain undetected by your immune system.
Functional Medicine believes any illness, cancer included, is a result of one or more imbalances within the body.
If you’re undergoing conventional treatment for testicular cancer, Functional Medicine can support your body both during and after your treatment by maximizing your nutrition, supporting your immune system and minimising the side effects of drug treatment.
The emphasis is on personalised treatment, as no two people are the same. Individualised nutrition and healthy lifestyle strategies aim to reduce susceptibility to cancer and complement conventional treatments.
Jo Gamble has undertaken an Integrative Medicine Fellowship in integrative cancer care. For more information or to book a consultation, contact Jo here.
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