Male Reproductive Cancers
What is it?
- Reproductive cancers start in the organs related to reproduction. For men, these include the penis, testicles, and prostate gland.
- Each type of male reproductive cancer has different symptoms, so it is important to see a healthcare provider if you have symptoms.
What is cancer?
Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow out of control. Cancers are named for the part of the body where they start.
What are male reproductive cancers?
Reproductive cancers start in the organs related to reproduction (sex). The most common reproductive cancers in men are:
- Testicular: Begins in the testes, the two egg-shaped glands that make sperm in the scrotum (ball sac) near the base of the penis.
- Penile: Begins in the penis, part of the external genitals.
- Prostate: Begins in the prostate, a gland inside the pelvis (the area in the lower belly between the hip bones) that surrounds the urethra (the tube that empties the bladder).
See more on the anatomy of the male reproductive system.
What are the early symptoms of male reproductive cancers?
Each type of male reproductive cancer has different symptoms. It is important to see a healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms. Note that sometimes cancer does not present with symptoms, and that cancer may be found as a lab test result that is not normal.
- Testicular cancer: Pain, discomfort, lump, or swelling in the testis itself, aching in the lower abdomen (belly).
- Penile cancer: Redness, discomfort, sore, or lump on the penis.
- Prostate cancer: Weak flow of urine, blood in urine, pain in the back, hips, or pelvis (lower belly between the hips), or needing to pass urine often.
What are the risk factors for male reproductive cancers?
A risk factor is the chance that something will harm or otherwise affect a person’s health. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age, race, and family history, while others are related to factors in the environment that may cause cancer. Some risk factors can be changed through your health habits.
There are different risks that increase the likelihood of developing male reproductive cancers:
- Testicular cancer: Undescended testicle, having a family history of testicular cancer, having a testicle that is not normal.
- Penile cancer: Having human papillomavirus (HPV), being uncircumcised, being age 60 or older, having many sexual partners, using tobacco products.
- Prostate cancer: Being aged 50 years old or older, having a family history of prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is more common in African American men and tends to start at younger ages and grow faster among African American men.
HPV is a virus that is spread during sexual contact. There are about 40 different strains (types) of HPV that can infect the genital area. About a dozen of these can cause cancer.
There are two types or strains of HPV:
- Low-risk strains: Low-risk strains of HPV can cause warts on the genitals. Warts can be itchy, embarrassing, and unpleasant, but these strains are considered low risk because they do not cause cancer.
- High-risk strains: High-risk strains do not cause warts but can, rarely, cause cancer. This is why they are called high-risk strains.
Most adults will have an HPV infection at some time during their lives. HPV infections almost always clear up on their own without treatment. A person with a high-risk strain of HPV that does not clear up on its own over many years could eventually get cancer.
Are there tests for male reproductive cancers?
There are no screening tests for testicular or penile cancer. It is important for men to see a healthcare provider about any symptoms or if a new lump is found. Finding cancers early increases the chance of better long-term results.
For prostate cancer, however, there are tests that your healthcare provider can perform. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if one of these is right for you.
When a person has symptoms or a test that indicates the need for further testing to rule out cancer, healthcare providers use diagnostic tests to find cancers. The tests used to find reproductive cancers depend on the type of cancer, but may include:
- Lab tests: Blood tests that sometimes show signs of cancer.
- Ultrasound test: Imaging test that helps doctors “see” inside the body.
- Biopsy: Procedure where small pieces of tissue are taken to check for cancer.
How are male reproductive cancers treated?
The treatment for male reproductive cancer depends on the type of cancer. Reproductive cancers are often treated with surgery, chemotherapy (medicine to kill cancer cells), hormone therapy (medicine to block hormones that are related to cancer growth), radiation, or a combination used together. An oncologist (cancer doctor) can help you select the right treatment(s) for any specific reproductive cancer.
Because reproductive cancers and their treatment can possibly affect a man’s ability to have children, talk with your healthcare provider about what you can do if you hope to have children in the future.
Did You Know?
Reproductive cancers can also affect the female reproductive system.
Content last reviewed on November 28, 2017