A cancer diagnosis is the last anyone would want to hear let alone the testes. The testes are the pride of every married man because they are answerable for producing sperm for reproduction. Thus, every man must learn about his testes to avoid and prevent the occurrence of this disease. To better understand our subject, let us delve into the testes.
Structure and function of the testes.
The testes are two oval-shaped organs of the male reproductive parts enclosed in a loose skin called the scrotum. Inside the testes lie other cells and tissues. There is a septum (wall) that partitions lobules. Within each lobule are about 4-5 seminiferous tubules where sperms are synthesized.
The seminiferous tubule is the actual sperm factory. Each seminiferous tubule consists of thick epithelial cells that surround a fluid-filled lumen(hole). The thick cells consist of two main types; germ cells and Sertoli cells. The germ cells(spermatogonia) are at the periphery of the seminiferous tubule. They divide continuously during puberty to form the male gamete-sperm. The Sertoli are relatively bigger and extend from the periphery to the lumen. They supply nutrients to developing sperm cells.
Outside of the seminiferous tubules are cells called Leydig cells which produce testosterone which is important for male characteristics such as growth in muscle mass, the thickness in voice, etc. the sperm cells produced are immature and are transported to the epididymis for storage and maturation which is released during ejaculation.
However, if any of those cells begin to divide uncontrollably, it then leads to tumours (cancers). Cancer can be benign, i.e., it does not invade into other tissues or malignant i.e., it invades or spread to nearby tissue and other organs. Testicular cancer can be grouped into two main types;
1. Seminomas: this type refers to germ cells that divide uncontrollably to form a mass. This division then forms a lump but it stays within the tubule as it does not spread outside of the wall.
2. Non-seminomas: this kind of division goes beyond the tubule. It may spread to blood vessels nearby and may even travel to other organs such as the brain, lung, liver, kidney.
Note, that there are subtypes of each of the types.
Symptoms of testicular cancer
The symptoms include pain in the scrotum that covers the testis whether dull or sharp. Furthermore, one may notice an enlargement in the scrotum or feel a lump in either or both of the testes. If cancer spreads to other tissues and organs, it is likely to have back pains and cough which are less common.
One must note that, unlike other cancers, testicular cancer is curable and easily detectable. If you suspect any of these signs, please visit a doctor and you will be directed to a urologist.
At the hospital, the doctor will perform a physical examination and order a blood sample to be taken together with a harmless ultrasound. The ultrasound will confirm if indeed, there is a lump and as to the type of cancer present. The blood helps to detect the high levels of blood markers as a result of the tumour. Seldom, a CT scan or MRI is also performed to check the other organs, bones and other tissues.
Causes of testicular cancer
As usual, the reason for cancer is unknown but certain factors increase a man’s chance of obtaining the disease called risk factors. Risk factors for testicular cancer include
1. Undescended testes
This is most commonly diagnosed in young boys and fixed before they even grow up but it does not eliminate their chances of getting the disease.
2. Family history: If an individual has a relative especially a brother or a father who had this type of cancer then is it likely to obtain it as it can be inherited among offspring.
3. Age: testicular usually affects males between the ages of 15-40 years. Cancer is usually thought to affect older people but testicular cancer affects the young and the youth because, their sperms are active at these times and hence, are more likely to experience problems with it.
As mentioned earlier, testicular cancer is curable irrespective of the stage one has gotten to. The treatment option may use one or more approaches which will depend on the stage of the disease. The main thing they do is to remove the infected testis (Orchiectomy). Remember, the testes are two therefore the other will be functional. Rarely does cancer affect both testes. In that scenario, there will be a talk to probably secure some healthy sperms to the fertility or sperm bank. The surgery is not intense as compared to others and individuals may be discharged the same day.
Combined treatments such as chemotherapy may be applied especially in non-seminomas. Drugs are ingested to cure cancer. The drug can be swallowed in a pill or it can be injected into a vein or muscle. chemotherapy is systemic,i.e, the drug travels throughout the body to reach and destroy the cancerous cells. This treatment is effective as it kills cancerous cells and prevents cancer from returning after the testicle has been removed.
Side effects will depend on the type, dose and duration of the drug used. General side effects include; hair loss, mouth sores and fatigue.
Radiation therapy may be used if the cancerous cells are at the lymph nodes. Individuals will mostly recover after 2-4 weeks after surgery. The side effects are minimal.
It is important to note that testicular cancer will not affect the sex life of individuals who have recovered. Everything will go back to normal as soon as possible but they are advised to stay away from heavy lifting and strenuous activity for about a month.
Additional treatments such as chemotherapy may cause infertility, hence, individuals are advised to bank their sperms before these procedures. Relatively, there is about an 80% chance of surviving this condition.
Men, examine your balls! Do not be shy to visit a doctor immediately you suspect testicular cancer.
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