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Testicular Cancer Types, Symptoms, and Risks

What is Testicular Cancer?

Testicular cancer is a cancer that grows within the testes, organs in the male reproductive system that produce testosterone and sperm.

It's rare, affecting less than one percent of men during their lifetime. Doctors diagnose around 8,400 men per year.

Unlike many other cancers, testicular cancer is common in younger men. It's the leading cause of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 34.

Testicular cancer — like any cancer — occurs when the body's cells reproduce for no reason. It's also capable of spreading throughout the body.

Cancer of the testes, however, is often treatable.

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer the latest treatment options for men facing testicular cancer. Our experts work as a team to design a treatment program tailored to your unique needs.

We also provide risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Even if you've received testicular cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

Types of Testicular Cancer

Several types of cancer can grow in the testicles, and can be either:

  • Invasive — meaning the cancer can spread.
  • Non-invasive (or “carcinoma in situ”) — meaning it does not spread.

Almost all cancer occurring in the testicles is one of two types of germ cell cancer. Germ cells are the cells involved in making sperm.

The two most common types of germ cell cancer are:

  • Seminoma — the “classic” seminoma is the most common. It affects younger adults. The rare “spermatocytic” seminoma affects older men and is less likely to spread. Both types of seminomas grow slowly.
  • Non-seminoma — this type of germ cell cancer is most common in teens and younger men.
    There are four types of non-seminoma germ cell cancers:
    • Embryonal carcinoma is invasive and grows quickly.
    • Yolk sac carcinoma occurs mostly in infants and responds well to treatment.
    • Choriocarcinoma is often invasive and spreads quickly.
    • Teratomamature teratomas are unlikely to spread and respond well to treatment. Immature teratomas are often invasive and likely to spread. teratomas with somatic-type malignancy contain cancer cells that normally would not appear as testicular cancer and are more difficult to treat.

Other types of cancer — secondary cancers — can affect the testicles. These cancers begin somewhere else in the body and spread to other organs, including the testicles.

Signs and Symptoms of Testicular Cancer

  • Often, the earliest sign is a lump on one of the testicles. The lump is almost always painless, but the testicle can swell.
  • Some men have pain or dull aching in the lower abdomen.
  • A rare sign of cancer of the testes is breast growth in adult men or early signs of puberty in young boys.

As testicular cancer spreads, it can cause pain around lymph nodes — often in the lower back or groin.

Further spreading may cause symptoms in other parts of the body, such as:

  • Swelling of the liver.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Headaches.

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Pain — especially severe pain — in the testicles can be an emergency or a sign of other health problems. You should always have a doctor evaluate testicle pain as soon as possible.

Testicular Cancer Risk Factors

Although the exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown, certain factors can increase risk of this disease.

Having a risk factor doesn't mean that you will get a certain type of cancer.

However, men with cancer of the testes tend to have one or more of these risk factors:

  • Caucasian race.
  • Having a family member with this form of cancer.
  • Having HIV.
  • Prior testicular cancer diagnosis, including carcinoma in situ.
  • Undescended testicle.

Stages of Testicular Cancer

In its early stages, cancer of the testes has not spread.

Diagnosis of testicular cancer involves the assignment of stages.

These stages tell your doctor where the cancer is and how much it has spread:

  • T for tumor, which confirms whether the cancer is only in the testicle.
  • N for nodes, which indicates if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes located near the testes.
  • M for metastatic, which shows whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Each letter also receives a number or other letters. The higher the number, the more severe the diagnosis.

Contact Us About Urologic Cancer Care

To learn more about urologic cancer care or to make an appointment, you can: