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Is testicular cancer hereditary?

REVIEWED BY
LAST REVIEWED
12th of Mar 2022
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Key points & intro
Testicular cancer can be hereditary
What to keep in mind
Family history of testicular cancer
Summary
KEY POINTS
  • It is very rare for testicular cancer to run in families.

  • A family history of testicular cancer increases a person’s risk of being diagnosed with it, but the overall risk is still low.

  • If testicular cancer runs in your family, there are steps you can take to manage your risk and stay on top of things down there.

Does testicular cancer run in your family? If so, what does that mean for you?

Whether you were recently diagnosed with testicular cancer and you’re trying to learn more, or you’re just trying to assess your risk based on family history, it’s helpful to know what role genetics can play.

So… is testicular cancer hereditary? Read on for the short answer, a few important considerations, and what to do if it runs in your family.

Short answer: yes, testicular cancer can be hereditary.

Having a family history of testicular cancer increases your risk, especially if an immediate family member (that is, a parent or sibling) has had it before. Or as Johns Hopkins Medicine puts it: “The disease is highly heritable and can be passed from generation to generation.”

Here’s how family history increases your chances of getting testicular cancer:

  • Your risk is 2 to 4 times higher if a parent has had testicular cancer before.

  • Your risk is 8 to 12 times higher if a sibling has had it before.

  • However, even if a close relative has had testicular cancer, it is very unlikely you will be diagnosed with it.

You’re also more likely to get testicular cancer when you’re younger if you have an immediate family history — on average, 2 to 3 years earlier than other guys who are diagnosed with it.

Good news: we’re learning more and more about the hereditary risks of testicular cancer.

New research is helping scientists get closer than ever to pinpointing the hereditary links to testicular cancer. Here’s a snapshot of the most recent breakthroughs:

  • In 2015, the Institute of Cancer Research at the University of London found that testicular cancer could be more hereditary than other types of cancer. In fact, nearly half the risk of getting it is genetic. (This study was funded in part by Movember.)

  • 2017 research from Penn Medicine in the United States discovered 12 genetic locations that may be vulnerable to hereditary testicular cancer.

  • In 2021, additional research identified 22 more genetic locations associated with testicular cancer.

You know what they say… knowledge is power.

Hereditary testicular cancer: what to keep in mind

Learning that you’re several times more likely to get testicular cancer, all because of who you’re related to, may feel like a kick in the gut. But testicular cancer is extremely rare so even if you’re several times more likely to get it, your overall likelihood of getting it is extremely low. But it’s not all bad news, for two very important reasons:

When it comes to testicular cancer, “hereditary” does not equal “high risk.”

While having a family history of testicular cancer does increase your risk factor, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to get it… or even that you’re all that likely to get diagnosed with it. In fact, despite the proven hereditary link, only around 3% of guys with testicular cancer have a close relative who also had it.

How exactly does that square with the fact that your risk is anywhere from 2 to 12 times higher if you have an immediate family member with testicular cancer?

Part of it can be explained by the fact that the overall risk of getting testicular cancer is so low. The average guy’s risk is about 1 in 250, or 0.4%. Even if that risk multiplies because of family history, it’s still pretty low. Basically, if a sibling or parent had testicular cancer, it’s more like the risk for you went from “very unlikely” to “still pretty unlikely.”

The more we know about the hereditary causes of testicular cancer, the better.

While it may seem daunting to learn that some of the risk for testicular cancer can be inherited from your family, in the right hands this information is incredibly useful. (Again: knowledge is power.)

The more genetic locations scientists manage to identify, the better equipped we are to stop testicular cancer in its tracks. Knowing the genetic drivers of testicular cancer can help doctors catch cases of it earlier, treat it more effectively, and in some cases, prevent it altogether.

What should you do if you have a family history of testicular cancer?

No one loves finding out that cancer runs in the family. If you have a parent or sibling who’s gone through testicular cancer, what can you do to protect yourself?

While it’s not possible at this time to prevent most cases of testicular cancer, there are steps you can take to manage your risk — and act quickly if there’s anything amiss.

Know thy nuts.

70% of men say they never have or don’t regularly check their nuts. Don’t be one of them, especially if testicular cancer runs in the family. (But seriously, even if it doesn’t: check your nuts.)

Getting to know what feels normal can help you identify when something doesn’t — and that something could just be an early sign of testicular cancer.

If you notice a lump on your testicle that wasn’t there before, or if you experience any pain or swelling, it’s best to have a doctor examine you to see what’s going on.

Learn more about checking your nuts for testicular cancer.

Check with your doctor.

Make sure your doctor or GP knows about your family history of testicular cancer. Be sure to specify if it’s an immediate relative who had it.

If you find something unusual on your nuts, don’t beat around the bush. Tell your doctor exactly why you’re there. (They’ve heard it all before. Promise.)

Chances are, your doctor will want to check your testicles and possibly run some tests. Here’s more about what to expect when seeing the doctor.

Bottom line: testicular cancer can be inherited. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to get it. In fact, the overall risk is still pretty low for most guys. Knowing your family history is an important part of managing the risk and jumping on any problems quickly, should they arise.

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