A New Test for Testicular Cancer?

Testicular cancer is a type of cancer that strikes the young; according to the NIH, it’s most common among men between the ages of 15 and 34.

Testicular cancer is one of the less prevalent forms of cancer among men. Though prostate cancer is #1 on the list, testicular cancer is still a concern—with roughly 5.7 new cases per 100,000 men every year. Worse, it’s a type of cancer that strikes the young; according to the NIH, it’s most common among men between the ages of 15 and 34.

But what if there was a test that could tell you whether or not you were at risk of developing testicular cancer? You’d be able to take steps to prepare for it, undergoing regular physical exams to catch cancer in its early stages.

According to a paper published in Nature Genetics, a team of UK researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research may have found such a test. Or, more accurately, they’ve discovered genetic markers that indicate a higher chance of testicular cancer.

Previous studies have discovered genetic markers linked to testicular cancer, but the ICR researchers have discovered much more—twice as many—that could point to a higher cancer risk. The study provided evidence that roughly 50% of the cancer risk is passed down genetically. But it’s not just one gene responsible for the problem, it’s the result of many DNA changes.

The study examined the DNA of over 30,000 men—7,000 with testicular cancer, and 23,000 without. They found 19 different DNA changes known as “risk loci” that indicate a higher risk of testicular cancer. This almost doubled the number of risk loci from 25 to 44.

When the researchers tested using all 44 of the risk loci, they found the risk prediction rates were much higher and more accurate. Men with all 44 genetic markers had a 7% chance of developing the disease during their life. That may not sound like much, but that’s 14 times higher than the average male.

This discovery has two benefits:

  1. It can help researchers to test for testicular cancer more accurately and gives a higher chance of detecting genetic risk factors before the cancer sets in. There may very soon be a new genetic test that can help to screen for testicular cancer
  2. But second, and most important, it gives greater understanding into the genetic risk factors that play a role in testicular cancer, potentially opening routes for new treatments. Given that many cases of testicular cancer are untreatable, it could be a hope for men unable to benefit from current treatment methods.


1. Litchfield, Kevin, Max Levy, Giulia Orlando, Chey Loveday, Philip J. Law, Gabriele Migliorini, Amy Holroyd, et al. “Identification of 19 New Risk Loci and Potential Regulatory Mechanisms Influencing Susceptibility to Testicular Germ Cell Tumor.” Nature Genetics 49, no. 7 (July 2017): 1133–40. doi:10.1038/ng.3896.