Early detection of testicular cancer can make a difference in survivorship. Here’s a helpful guide on the importance of monthly self-exams.
Although testicular cancer is not common, the American Cancer Society (ACS) indicates that over the last couple of decades there has been a steady increase in the incidence of this type of cancer in the United States and other countries. In 2019, an estimated 9,560 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with testicular cancer, according to the ACS.
The average age at time of diagnosis is 33, but 8% of cases are diagnosed in men who are 55 or older, and 6% are diagnosed in boys and adolescents. That’s why doctors recommend monthly self-exams for men 15 years of age and older.
Armed with that knowledge, it’s important to learn how to conduct a testicular self-examination. According to the latest data from the ACS, the five-year relative survival rate for testicular cancer is 99%.
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A few easy tips on conducting a testicular self-exam
Doctors recommend checking your testicles for lumps once a month. You should be familiar with the shape, size and feel of your testicles, so that you can quickly discover any changes in the way they feel and look. It’s normal for one testicle (often the right one) to be a little larger than the other. The left one often hangs a little lower.
Warm water allows the scrotum to relax and the testicles to drop down for easy inspection, so performing a self-exam during or after a warm shower or bath is ideal.
Use both hands to gently roll each testicle, with just a little pressure, between your fingers. Place your thumb over the top of the testicle and roll it between your fingers, with the index and middle fingers of each hand behind the testicle. Your testicles should feel firm and smooth and have the consistency of a hard-boiled egg.
It’s normal to feel the epididymis, which is the soft, rope-like, sperm-carrying tube at the top of the back of each testicle. You should feel for any firm masses, lumps or nodules along the front or sides. Lumps may be as small as a piece of rice or a pea, and they are often painless.
If you notice any swelling, lumps or changes in the size or color of a testicle, or if you have any pain or achy areas in the groin, you should immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor or urologist.
“The most common presentation of testicular cancer is a painless mass,” says Hooman Djaladat, MD, MS, a urologist at USC Urology of Keck Medicine of USC and an associate professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “However, it might present with painful swelling, signs of infection, abdominal and back pain, due to spread of disease to the retroperitoneum and constitutional symptoms.”
Don’t stress, if you notice something abnormal, because there are many reasons, other than cancer, for having lumps. If you find any abnormalities, it’s advised that you get professional help, as they may be a sign of another condition or infection that will need medical attention.
In addition to lumps, you need to be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- Enlargement or shrinking of a testicle
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- A dull ache in the lower abdomen or in the groin
- A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
- Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
- Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts
Checking your testicles on a regular basis will help you assess if there are any changes or abnormalities. If you do notice something abnormal during a self-exam, don’t delay — contact your physician and have it checked out.
by Ramin Zahed
To learn more about USC Urology, visit https://urology.keckmedicine.org. To schedule an appointment with a urologist, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit https://urology.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.