Causes and Risk Factors of Testicular Cancer
When testicular cancer develops, it usually starts in one of a man’s two testes, but it can occur in both. The testes (testicles) are part of the male reproductive system, and they’re responsible for producing sperm and hormones, such as testosterone. Cancer in this area is fairly uncommon, affecting about 1 out of 250 men and boys, according to the American Cancer Society.
Testicular cancer is most commonly diagnosed in young and middle-aged men, but it also affects about 6% of boys and 8% of men 55 and older. About 90% of testicular cancer cases start in the cells that make sperm, as opposed to the cells that produce male hormones.
What causes testicular cancer?
Researchers aren’t sure what causes testicular cancer, or why certain people develop it while others do not. Several studies have shown a correlation between testicular cancer and certain risk factors, but it’s not fully clear why otherwise healthy cells become cancerous.
Despite that, researchers understand that testicular cancer develops in the same way as other types of cancer. Generally, testicular cancer occurs when:
- Healthy cells develop a DNA mutation that causes them to multiply at a quicker rate than normal.
- The rapidly dividing cells start to accumulate into a lesion.
- Over time, the lesion develops into a tumor. Until the tumor is diagnosed and treated, it can continue to spread throughout the testicles, into nearby structures and even to distant parts of the body.
Testicular cancer risk factors
Testicular cancer risk factors, when present, don’t necessarily mean that a man will develop a testicular tumor. But they do mean that he should be particularly vigilant about his health. If a man with risk factors develops any unusual symptoms, he should report them to his physician and be sure to mention his medical history. This can help his physician arrive at a prompt and accurate diagnosis in the event that testicular cancer does develop.
Several common risk factors for testicular cancer have been identified, including these:
Undescended testicle (cryptorchidism)
For men with cryptorchidism, one or both testicles fail to move to the scrotum before birth. Men with this condition have an increased risk for developing testicular cancer, and that risk may be higher for men whose undescended testicle stayed in the abdomen as opposed to descending part of the way. Orchiopexy (surgery to move the undescended testicle to the scrotum) can possibly reduce the risk of developing testicular cancer if it is done when the patient is younger.
Hypospadias is a relatively common birth defect in which the urethral opening is not located at the tip of the penis, but rather along its underside. This abnormality can be corrected with surgery, but it has been linked with an increased risk for developing testicular cancer.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
Men with HIV, and those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) caused by HIV, have a slightly higher risk for developing testicular cancer.
Personal and family history
Men who have a personal history of testicular cancer have a slightly higher risk of developing cancer in the other testicle at some point in their life. Additionally, having a father or brother who has had testicular cancer also increases the risk. The genetically inherited disease Kleinfelter’s syndrome has also been shown to increase risk for testicular cancer.
While testicular cancer can affect males of any age, about 50% of testicular cancers occur in men between the ages of 20 and 34.
Race and ethnicity
Testicular cancer can affect men of any race or ethnicity; however, for unknown reasons, Caucasian males are four to five times more likely to develop testicular cancer than those of other races. Studies have shown this risk to be highest among the Caucasian men residing in the United States and Europe.
Lifestyle risk factors for testicular cancer
The risk of developing some other types of cancer goes up when people make unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking, physical inactivity and overeating that leads to obesity, but this not the case for testicular cancer. An exception may be alcohol consumption. At least one study found that consuming 14 or more alcoholic beverages per week may increase a man’s risk for developing a type of cancer known as testicular germ cell carcinoma, but more research was recommended. Additionally, a few studies have identified a higher risk for testicular cancer among men whose diets were high in fat, red meats and dairy products or low in fruits and vegetables.
However, most experts agree that testicular cancer can’t be prevented by changing lifestyle habits. Men are encouraged to perform self-exams and report any changes in size, shape or consistency of their testicles to their physician.
Testicular cancer care at Moffitt Cancer Center
Moffitt’s Urologic Oncology Program offers testicular cancer screening for men who have an elevated risk of developing the malignancy. In fact, our testicular cancer specialists can help patients assess their own unique risk profiles and develop appropriate surveillance or treatment plans, if necessary. Our testicular cancer program offers a complete range of advanced diagnostic tools as well as treatment methods in a single, convenient location. What’s more, each patient with testicular cancer receives a treatment plan that’s tailored to their specific health condition and other factors.
Moffitt is a nationally recognized leader in cancer research, diagnosis and treatment. As the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, Moffitt participates in an extensive array of clinical trials, which means our patients often have access to groundbreaking treatments that are not widely available at other hospitals.
For more information about the risk factors for testicular cancer, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form to meet with one of our highly specialized oncologists. You do not need a referral to visit Moffitt Cancer Center.