How to Check for Testicular Cancer

Testicular cancer is cancer of the testes, which are located within the scrotum, underneath the penis. The testicles produce male sex hormones and sperm, and cancer affecting these organs can result in male infertility.

Most cases of testicular cancer can be found early when the cancer is small and hasn't spread, Early diagnosis is incredibly important so that treatment can be started as soon as possible. The first sign of testicular cancer is usually a lump on the testicle or swelling in the testicle, which can usually be detected through a self-exam. Testicular self-exams are quick and easy to do on your own. If you notice anything abnormal during this exam, you should discuss it with your doctor.

How Common Is Testicular Cancer?

Testicular cancer is uncommon, affecting one in 250 males. The American Cancer Society estimates that 9,470 new cases of new testicular cancer will be diagnosed and 440 deaths will be caused by this type of cancer in 2021.

Testicular cancer can affect males of any age. It is the most prevalent cancer among males aged 18 to 39. The incidence of testicular cancer in those aged 15 to 54 is increasing, and most cases are found in males under 35 years old. The exact reason for this increase is not known. This type of cancer can usually be treated successfully.

man checking himself in the mirror

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How Often Should You Check Your Testicles?

Most physicians recommend performing a self-check once every month. By checking regularly, males will have an easier time noticing when something has changed.

Some researchers suggest:

  • Reinforcing proper guidelines for testicular self-exams
  • Patient education about the success rate in treating early-detected testicular cancers
  • Making this examination a routine part of adolescent and adult male overall health and wellness self-care

The American Cancer Society does not have specific guidelines about the frequency of testicular self-exams. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) states that there is a lack of evidence that testicular self-exams are beneficial for reducing mortality (death).

The USPSTF recommendation asserts that the potential harms—mainly anxiety—outweigh the benefits of self-screening. There is also a high risk of false-positive results. However, considerable evidence in the literature support self-exams as helpful in detecting testicular cancer.

How to Perform a Testicular Self-Exam

A self-exam should be done during or after a shower because the heat will relax the skin of the scrotum and make it easier to perform a self-exam.

To perform a testicular self-exam, follow the steps below:

  1. Place the index and middle fingers of both hands to support the bottom of the scrotal sack. The testicle is located inside the scrotal sack, and is shaped like a bean. Perform the exam one testicle at a time.
  2. Hold your testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands and roll it gently between your fingers. You should not experience any discomfort during this exam.
  3. Look and feel for any hard lumps or nodules (smooth rounded masses) or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of your testicles.

You may find it helpful to perform the exam in front of a mirror. You could even incorporate visual cues into your environment, such as a reminder on your bathroom mirror, or a smartphone reminder, to ensure this becomes a regular part of your self-care regime.

What to Do If You Find a Lump

If you find a lump, see a doctor immediately. Don’t put it off. There is nothing to feel embarrassed about in seeking medical advice about a potential lump. In fact, you should be proud for taking steps to take care of your health.

You can see your primary care doctor or a urologist. A urologist is a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the urinary tract and male reproductive system. Depending on your situation, your doctor might order an ultrasound exam to see if there is a tumor in your testicles, and may order more tests if they think the lump is cancer.

When a Lump Isn’t Cancer

Most lumps are not cancerous. In a study that included 845 patients who had a lump or pain in their testicles, only 33 (4%) were ultimately diagnosed with testicular cancer. However, this is not a reason to avoid consulting with your healthcare provider if you suspect a lump. It is best to rule out the possibility of a cancerous lump rather than to assume it is harmless.

In the 845 patient cohort, the most common causes of testicular lumps were epididymal cysts (27%) and hydrocele (11%).

Other causes of testicular lumps:

  • Epididymal cysts may also be referred to as spermatoceles or spermatic cysts. The epididymis transports and stores sperm, and sometimes dead sperm can become trapped there. Epididymal cysts do not cause infertility, but they may cause your testicles to feel heavier, and you may experience swelling or locate a bump that could be mistaken for testicular cancer. Epididymal cysts are quite common, and they are usually benign.
  • Hydroceles are buildups of fluid inside a body cavity. A hydrocele between the parietal and visceral layers of the tunica vaginalis (a serous membrane covering the testes) was the second most common explanation for lumps in the study mentioned above.
  • A varicocele, which occurs when the veins in the testicle dilate, can cause enlargement and lumpiness around the testicle that may be mistaken for a cancerous lump as well.

A Word From Verywell

Testicular cancer is highly treatable if found early, and self-checks can help. Performing a self-exam on a regular basis can potentially help identify the problem early if it is present. Consider adding reminders on your smartphone to help you remember to perform self-exams.

If you notice a lump during your self-exam, schedule a visit with your doctor right away. Remember that a lump may or may not be cancerous and that a lump can be a result of other treatable causes. Even if it is cancerous, testicular cancer is usually treated successfully.

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Article Sources
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