Although testicular cancer is fairly rare, with about 8,800 new cases in the U.S. this year, it’s helpful for men to know what to look for. When testicular cancer is found, it is highly treatable with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
If you are a man or have a man in your life, consider screening for testicular cancer regularly.
Why is it important to screen myself for testicular cancer?
“Self-screening helps each man know what is normal for him,” said Scott & White urologist David L. Scott, MD, PhD.
When you take time to self-screen every month or so, you will be looking for a lump and anything out of the norm. A good time to perform the exam is when you’re in the shower.
Dr. Scott explains that every male’s scrotum is a little different, but the structures are easy to identify. The testis is a smooth and oval shaped structure, and one is usually found in each side.
“Early detection of a lump confined to the testicle can help improve the chances of survival if a cancer is found,” said Dr. Scott. “Testicular cancers are generally rapidly progressive without treatment and early detection is the best defense.”
What do I look for?
Starting around puberty, males should get in the habit of a self-testicular exam.
“Half of all testicular cancers occur between ages 20 and 34, but the other half of all cases happen either before age 20 or in men older than 34,” says Dr. Scott.
This means boys and young men should be in the habit of screening regularly, as well as men after age 34.
In order to know what to look for, Dr. Scott explains the steps for a self-testicular exam:
- Start off in a warm shower to relax the scrotal skin.
- Feel each testis individually in each side of the scrotum; use the thumb and two fingers to feel both sides of the testis.
- “Generally it is smooth in character and without lumps or nodules except for the epididymis attached to generally the back side of the testis,” says Dr. Scott. The epididymis is soft and rubbery, and not nodular.
- It is important to not squeeze hard enough that you cause pain.
- If you feel pain in the testis, it’s not usually cancer but can be something else you should discuss with your doctor.
- Testicular cancer is characterized by a lump or enlargement of the testis that cause a “heavy feeling.”
- If you have a nodule or lump, it will feel more hard than the rest of the testis and could feel like a pebble or rock.
- If you ever feel something concerning, talk to your doctor right away.
“Because the penis and scrotum are very private parts of the body, many boys and men are afraid to seek help when they know something is wrong,” says Dr. Scott
It is very important to muster the courage to tell your parents, or if you are old enough, make an urgent appointment with your doctor, or seek care in an emergency room if you do not have a primary doctor.
Medical doctors, nurses and specialists like Dr. Scott take care of testicular cancer and see males with problems in their scrotum almost every day. They will understand that it is difficult to talk about, but want you to get help before the cancer spreads.
Remember that testicular cancer is generally very treatable, if caught early, and treatment does not affect your sexual function.
“Embarrassment helps the cancer win. Seeking help is the best way to fight back and be a survivor,” Dr. Scott said.
Find out more about care and treatment for testicular cancer.