Blood tests can check for proteins called tumour markers. These help diagnose testicular cancer and monitor how well treatment works.
You might also have blood tests to check your general health.
Higher than normal levels of particular proteins mean you could have testicular cancer.
Testicular cancers can make 3 different markers:
- alpha feta protein (AFP)
- human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG)
- lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)
Not all testicular cancers make these chemicals. You could have a cancer without raised marker levels. Raised levels are more common in some types of testicular cancer than others. Non seminoma cancers tend to have higher levels more often than pure seminomas.
Your doctor tests the levels of markers in your blood throughout your treatment and afterwards. These tests help to show how well treatment works and can show if the cancer has come back.
Preparing for your blood tests
You can eat and drink normally before most blood tests. For fasting blood tests you need to stop eating and drinking beforehand. Your doctor will tell you for how long.
You sit or lie down to have the test.
A doctor, nurse or phlebotomist (person specialised in taking blood) chooses the best vein to use. This is usually from your arm or hand. Let them know if you are afraid of needles, get unwell with the sight of blood or are allergic to plasters or latex.
They put a tight band (tourniquet) around your arm above the area where they take the sample. You may need to clench your fist to make it easier to find a vein.
They clean your skin and then put a small needle into your vein. Next, they attach a small bottle or syringe to the needle to draw out some blood. They might fill several small bottles.
Once they have all the samples, they release the band around your arm. They then take the needle out and put pressure on the area with a cotton wool ball or small piece of gauze for a few minutes. This helps to stop bleeding and bruising.
Look away when they’re taking the blood if you prefer. Tell your doctor, nurse or phlebotomist if you feel unwell.
Getting your results
Ask the phlebotomist, doctor or nurse when and how you will get your results. Some results might be available quickly, such as a full blood count. But some other tests might take several weeks.
Blood sampling (phlebotomy) is a safe test. There is a possibility of:
- bleeding and bruising - pressing hard when the needle is removed can help to stop it
- pain - this is normally mild and can last for a few minutes
- swelling (oedema) - ask your nurse, doctor or phlebotomist to avoid an arm that is swollen or has a risk of swelling
- feeling faint or fainting - tell the person doing your blood test if you're feeling lightheaded or dizzy at any time
- infection - this is very rare