Although it's one of the less common forms of cancer, testicular cancer is still pretty scary — especially because, compared to other types of cancer, it's more likely to strike the younger you are. "Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 15 to 35," says Timothy Gilligan, M.D., a testicular cancer medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic. In fact, 79 percent of all cases of testicular cancer occur in men 44 or younger, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and EndResults Program (SEER).
The good news? Testicular cancer is extremely treatable. “For every 100 men diagnosed with testicular cancer, 96 are cured," says Dr. Gilligan. If you catch it early in its localized stage (meaning, the cancer hasn’t yet spread to lymph nodes or other organs), your chances of beating it are even higher. About 99 percent of men diagnosed with localized testicular cancer survive five years or more, according to SEER data.
In many cases, testicular cancer is caught early because you notice its most common symptom — the presence of a lump on your testicle. But that's not the only sign you should be aware of. Here are the less obvious signs and symptoms of testicular cancer you need to know.
A HEAVY FEELING IN THE SCROTUM OR BELLY.
Even if you don’t have a lump on your balls, a heavy feeling in your testicles or lower in your abdomen can signal that something’s not quite right. In fact, this is actually one of the more common symptoms of testicular cancer, says Dr. Gilligan. Another way to describe it would be a heavy feeling of pressure in your scrotum or lower belly, which is likely due to extra fluid or enlarged lymph nodes.
AN ENLARGED OR SHRINKING TESTICLE.
Whether we’re talking about an increase or a decrease, any change to the size of your testicles could signal testicular cancer, says Dr. Gilligan. Changes in testicle size are usually caused by a hormonal imbalance, either due to a reduction in testosterone or even an increase in estrogen, which can occur with certain types of testicular tumors.
"Testis cancer can cause blood clots,” says Dr. Gilligan. That’s because tumors can spread to your lymph nodes, which can constrict blood flow in veins. These clots most commonly occur in your legs, causing them to swell up. In some cases, you might even experience blood clot symptoms from DVT (deep vein thrombosis), including pain and difficulty breathing.
BREAST GROWTH OR SORENESS.
Some testicular tumors produce hormones that cause breast tenderness or growth of breast tissue, which is called gynecomastia. Some tumors can secrete high levels of a hormone called humanchorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which stimulates breast development. Tumors can also produce estrogen, which, along with spurring breast development, can also lower your sex drive.
LOWER BACK PAIN AND SHORTNESS OF BREATH.
These are both symptoms of more advanced testicular cancer, meaning the cancer is no longer contained to your balls and has possibly spread to lymph nodes in the back of your stomach, says Dr. Gilligan. Shortness of breath may signal that the cancer has spread to your lungs, which may make it harder for air to move in and out.
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately. "Testis cancers are usually fast growing cancers, so it's important to get care quickly so a diagnosis can be made quickly," says Dr. Gilligan.
You can play the preventive game by examining your testicles regularly so you can be aware of anything out of the ordinary. Your best course of action is to perform your exam in the shower, since the warm water can relax your scrotum and make it easier for you to find anything suspicious. Any abnormalities — like lumps or changes in size, shape, and consistency — should be brought to your doctor ASAP.