A test to screen for testicular cancer (search) in men at risk for the disease looks promising, Danish researchers report.
The test checks semen samples for a protein called AP-2 gamma (search), which comes from undeveloped cells that produce sperm. Most testicular cancers originate from these undeveloped cells, write the researchers. The test needs more study before it’s ready for widespread use. If that goes well, men at risk for testicular cancer might have a better chance of early diagnosis.
Most Common Cancer Among Young Men
Testicular cancer usually occurs in men aged 15 to 35. In fact, it’s the most common type of cancer among men aged 20 to 34, says the National Cancer Institute.
Testicular cancer is increasing among young men in many countries, including the U.S., says the American Cancer Society (ACS). About 8,000 men will be diagnosed and 390 will die of the disease this year, the ACS estimates.
Good Survival Rates
Testicular cancer is highly curable. More than nine out of 10 men with testicular cancer are diagnosed with a small, localized tumor that is highly treatable. Even if the cancer has spread at diagnosis, many men with testicular cancer are treated successfully and have an excellent chance of survival.
Symptoms of Testicular Cancer
Physical examination -- by the patient himself or by a doctor -- is often the first way testicular cancer is noticed.
Men are advised to do monthly self-exams and get a routine physical exam once a year. Testicular cancer symptoms include:
--A lump in either testicle that may or may not cause pain
--An enlarged (swollen) or hard testicle
--A dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin
--A sudden gathering of fluid in the scrotum
--Feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
Initial Success for New Test
The new test was tried on a small group of men. Some of the men had testicular cancer, some had other types of cancer or fertility problems, and some were healthy.
The researchers were able to detect the AP-2 gamma protein in five of the 12 men with testicular cancer and in none of the men with other cancers or the healthy men.
One participant was a 23-year-old man who had been trying for a year and a half to have a baby with his partner. The positive test results subsequently led to a testicular biopsy, which revealed he had widespread early testicular cancer in one testis. Other than a low sperm count and infertility, he had no symptoms of testicular cancer.
After treatment, the couple were able to conceive a child naturally.
The study was conducted by scientists including Christina Hoei-Hansen, MD, a PhD student at Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet. Their report appears in the March 3 edition of the journal Human Reproduction.
SOURCES: Hoei-Hansen, Human Reproduction, March 3, 2005. National Cancer Institute. American Cancer Society. WebMD Medical Reference: “Understanding Testicular Cancer -- The Basics.” News release, European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology.