Being diagnosed with testicular cancer

Your GP or hospital specialist will arrange for you to have an ultrasound of your testicle. This test uses sound waves that convert into a picture on a computer. It tells your doctor if the lump is cancer or if it is harmless. If the ultrasound result isn’t clear you can have an MRI scan which takes a detailed picture of the area. You’ll also have blood tests to see if there are certain chemicals raised in your blood. Doctors call these tumour markers and they help diagnose some testicular cancers.

If the ultrasound shows that the lump is highly likely to be cancer you’ll need an operation to remove the testicle (orchidectomy). This is the only way to make a definite diagnosis. Taking a small piece of tissue (biopsy) may increase the risk of cancer cells spreading.

It's natural to have worries about this operation. But if the other testicle is healthy it won’t affect your ability to have sex or to father children. If you have any fertility concerns you can have sperm stored before surgery.

How testicular cancer is diagnosed

Usually you begin by seeing your family doctor (GP), who’ll examine you. If your GP suspects that you may have testicular cancer you’ll be referred to a hospital specialist for further tests. Sometimes your GP will request an ultrasound. The specialist will usually be a urologist - a doctor who is experienced in treating testicular, prostate, bladder and kidney problems. They will examine you and ask about your general health and any previous health problems you may have had. You’ll have an ultrasound examination of the scrotum and the testes, and blood tests. You may also have a chest x-ray to check that you lungs are healthy.

Occasionally, men with testicular cancer that has spread are diagnosed when they have other tests to investigate their symptoms. These tests may include a CT scan or MRI scan.

‘I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with getting that area checked. But my doctor was very professional and you just feel safe and comfortable.’ David

David


Ultrasound

This test can help the doctors tell whether a lump is a cancer, or is due to other causes, like a cyst (a harmless lump filled with fluid). It's a painless test and only takes a few minutes.

Once you're in a comfortable position, a gel is spread onto your scrotum and testes. A small device, like a microphone, is then passed over this area. This produces sound waves, which a computer converts into pictures of the inside of your testicle.


Blood tests

Your doctor will also take blood from you. This is usually done when you see a urologist. This is to find out if you have raised levels of certain chemicals in the blood called tumour markers. Some testicular cancers produce these chemicals and release them into the blood. You may still have testicular cancer even if these chemicals are not raised in the blood. Other blood tests will also be taken to check your general health.


MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

Occasionally, an MRI scan is used to diagnose testicular cancer. An MRI uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. If an ultrasound doesn’t clearly show whether a lump might be cancerous or not, an MRI scan is sometimes done to give a more detailed picture.


After your tests

With testicular cancer, the only way to get a definite diagnosis is to do an operation to remove the whole of the affected testicle. This is because taking just a small piece of tissue (biopsy) may increase the risk of a cancer spreading.

Removing the testicle (called orchidectomy)

The testicle is only removed if the ultrasound scan shows that the lump is highly likely to be cancer. The operation is done under a general anaesthetic. You may be able to go home on the same day or the day after your operation.

After you’ve had the testicle removed, a doctor called a pathologist will examine it to see if there is a cancer.

It’s natural to have concerns about having this operation. Your specialist will explain why you need it and will talk things over with you. You may also be referred to a specialist nurse who can give you information and support.

Removing one testicle won’t affect your sex life, your ability to get an erection, or have children, as long as your other testicle is healthy. You’ll be able to return to your normal sex life once you’ve recovered from the operation. If your doctor has concerns that your fertility might be affected by the operation, they may offer you the chance to store your sperm (sperm banking) before the operation.

Back to Tests and scans

Tumour markers

Tumour markers are measured by a blood test. They help diagnose the cancer and show how well treatment is working.