How to screen yourself for testicular cancer


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Mar 31, 2015

Although testicular cancer is fairly rare, 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 David L. Scott, MD, PhD, a urologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – College Station.

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 said that every man’s scrotum is a little different, but the structures are easy to identify. The testicle 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,” Dr. Scott said. “Testicular cancers are generally rapidly progressive without treatment and early detection is the best defense.”

What do I look for?

Starting around puberty, men should get in the habit of a testicle self-exam. According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of a man at the time of a testicular cancer diagnosis is 33, and it’s usually a disease of young and middle-aged men. That said, around 6 percent of cases occur in children and teens, and 8 percent in men older than 55.

In order to know what to look for, Dr. Scott said the steps for a self-testicular exam are:

  • 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.
  • The testis should generally be smooth in character, without lumps or nodules except for the epididymis, which is generally attached to the back side and should feel soft and rubbery, but 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 harder 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,” Dr. Scott said.

If you are younger, 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 care doctor.

Medical doctors, nurses and specialists take care of testicular cancer and see men 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,” Dr. Scott said. “Seeking help is the best way to fight back and be a survivor.”

Find out more about care and treatment for testicular cancer.

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