Testicular Cancer and Intellectual Disabilities: the facts

(Adapted from Hollins & Wilson, 2004 & NHS Direct, 2006) by Paul Michael Keenan, Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin,


Cancer of the testicle is rare. However, it is the most common form of cancer in young men under the age of 39. It is almost always curable, if found early. Cancer can start as a small lump and then grow, moving to other parts of the body. The disease responds well to treatment even if the cancer has spread to other parts of the person’s body. More than nine in ten patients are cured.

Higher risk groups

The risk is higher if:
• One or both of a boy’s testicles have not descended by the age of seven.
• A close family member has been diagnosed with the disease.
• It is more common among men with Down Syndrome and other genetic conditions. (Those with Down Syndrome are more likely to have testicles that have not descended into the scrotum.)
• If one or both testicles cannot be felt, a doctor should be consulted, as ultrasound screening may be required.
• Research indicates that testicular cancer is seen more commonly in men with white skin than men with black skin, and also in those from more affluent backgrounds. The reason for this is unknown.

Dispelling myths

Hot baths, sporting injuries, riding a bike, and having a vasectomy do not cause testicular cancer.


Early signs may include one or more of the following:
• Hard lump on the front or side of a testicle.
• Swelling or enlargement of a testicle.
• An increase in firmness of a testicle.
• Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum.
• An unusual difference between one testicle and the other. Other warning signs may include:
• A heavy feeling in the scrotum and a dull ache in the groin or scrotum.
• A build up of fluid within the scrotum, blood in the semen – perhaps noticeable on ejaculation
• Backache and stomach pains (because of the spread of the cancer).
• Rarely, some men experience tenderness around their nipples. This may be due to the release of hormones that are produced by some testicular tumours, or because the cancer has spread to the chest area.

Differential diagnosis

Not all testicular problems mean that the person has cancer. Discomfort or pain in a testicle may simply indicate an infection. Most lumps are benign—not cancerous. However, it is important not to hesitate in visiting a doctor. Correct diagnosis is important for the right treatment to be administered.

Remember — Testicular cancer is almost always curable if detected early!

Macmillan has a wealth of information assisting people to live with cancer