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Know your options before treatment

Testicular cancer is very treatable if it’s caught early. However, the cancer and its treatment could affect your chances of fathering kids in the future. The key is planning ahead discussing your options with your doctor can increase your chances of conception later.

“Because our first priority is curing your cancer, it’s possible that you could lose your fertility during treatment,” said Geisinger urologist John Danella, MD. “Take time before treatment to think about whether you’d like to have children in the future. If you do, or if you’re unsure, talk to your doctor about banking sperm.”

What causes testicular cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2018 there will be 9,310 new cases of testicular cancer and nearly 400 deaths. Currently, testicular cancer affects one in every 250 men at some point in their lifetime.

While testicular cancer affects men of all ages, most men tend to develop it when they are between 20 and 34 years old.

“As with other cancers, there are factors that increase your risk,” said Dr. Danella. “If you have immediate family members with testicular cancer, an undescended testicle, HIV or you’ve previously had testicular cancer, your risk increases.”

Contrary to popular belief, research shows that trauma to the testes from injuries or activities like horseback riding does not increase the risk of cancer.

How testicular cancer impacts your fertility

Testicular cancer can silently impact your fertility for months before it’s diagnosed. It can cause changes in your testosterone levels as well as genetic damage to sperm cells—both of which make it harder to conceive.

“Tumors from testicular cancer can block or harm the parts of the testes that create sperm,” said Dr. Danella. “In addition, radiation and chemotherapy can both cause a temporary or permanent loss of fertility by damaging the testes and sperm.”

Despite this, it is still possible to be fertile after treatment. It may take up to two years for your fertility to return, but in one study, 48 percent of participants were able to conceive after treatment.

How to check yourself for testicular cancer
If doctors catch it early, testicular cancer is very treatable. But because the symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle, it’s important to perform monthly self-checks to watch out for any changes or abnormalities. 

If you notice anything that doesn’t seem right, it’s best to see a doctor. They can perform tests to determine if it’s cancer.

“The best time to do a self-exam is in the shower,” said Dr. Danella. “Using your thumb, index finger and middle finger, gently roll each testicle between your fingers. If you notice anything different about the size, shape or consistency of one or both of your testicles, talk to your doctor.”

John Danella, MD, is director of urology at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.