Differential Diagnosis of Testicular Cancer

To diagnose testicular cancer physicians must rule out the following conditions:

  • Accumulation of fluid in the testicle (hydrocele)
  • Cancer of the lymphatic system (lymphoma)
  • Cyst on the surface of the testicle that contains sperm (spermatocele)
  • Enlarged veins in the testicle (varicocele)
  • Inflammation of the surface of the testicle (epididymitis)
  • Twisting of the testicle (testicular torsion)

Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce an image of the testicle on a computer screen. This test determines if a mass is a benign condition (e.g., hydrocele) or a solid tumor. A solid tumor in the testicle is usually cancerous.

When a solid tumor is detected by ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan) of the pelvis, abdomen, and chest is performed to determine if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. CT scan uses x-rays and, in some cases, a contrast agent (dye) to produce a detailed image on a computer screen.

Blood Tests to Help Diagnose Testicular Cancer

Certain types of testicular cancer raise the level of substances (so-called tumor markers) in the blood. For example, nonseminomas raise the level of proteins (e.g., alpha-feta protein [AFP]); seminomas and nonseminomas raise the level of hormones (e.g., human chorionic gonadotropin [HCG]); and advanced seminomas and nonseminomas usually raise the level of enzymes (e.g., lactate dehydrogenase [LDH]). Blood tests that measure the levels of these substances are used to diagnose testicular cancer and, in some cases, to determine the extent of the disease.

Biopsy is performed when other diagnostic tests are inconclusive. In this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the groin (inguinal incision), removes the testicle from the scrotum without cutting the spermatic cord, and may remove suspicious tissue for microscopic examination.

More often the testicle is removed when the mass is shown to be within the testicle due to the very high incidence of malignancy. If no cancer is found, the testicle is returned to the scrotum. If cancer is detected, the testicle and spermatic cord are removed (called orchiectomy) and the stage of the disease is determined.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015