The exact cause of most testicular cancers is not known. But scientists have found that the disease is linked with a number of other conditions, which are described in the section “What are the risk factors for testicular cancer?” A great deal of research is being done to learn more about the causes.
Researchers are learning how certain changes in a cell’s DNA can cause the cell to become cancerous. DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes. Genes tell our cells how to function. They are packaged in chromosomes, which are long strands of DNA in each cell. Most cells in the body have 2 sets of 23 chromosomes (one set of chromosomes comes from each parent), but each sperm or egg cell has only 23 chromosomes. When the sperm and egg combine, the resulting embryo has a normal number of chromosomes in each cell, half of which are from each parent. We usually look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than how we look.
Some genes control when our cells grow, divide into new cells, and die. Certain genes that help cells grow and divide are called oncogenes. Others that slow down cell division or make cells die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes. Cancers can be caused by changes in chromosomes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.
Most testicular cancer cells have extra copies of a part of chromosome 12 (called isochromosome 12p or i12p). Some testicular cancers have changes in other chromosomes as well, or even abnormal numbers of chromosomes (often too many). Scientists are studying these DNA and chromosome changes to learn more about which genes are affected and how this might lead to testicular cancer.
Last Revised: 02/12/2016