Testicular Cancer: The Importance of a Monthly Self-Exam
Testicular cancer is rare but is the most common form of cancer in males between the ages of 15 and 30. Most cases of testicular cancer are discovered by the patient, so the self-exam is a painless and important technique to catch it early. Men are usually very healthy during this time of life and may feel invincible to this type of threat. However, just as with other forms of cancer, early diagnosis and treatment will increase the chances for a patient’s positive outcome.
The Scrotum: What’s in there?
The testes are two oval-shaped organs located in the scrotum. These organs produce sperm and other male hormones. A tubular structure is situated along the back of each testis called the epididymis. The epididymis collects the sperm produced in the testes. This is connected to a longer tube called the vas deferens, which lead to the prostate gland. In the prostate gland, secretions are added to the sperm which creates semen. The semen then travels from the prostate into the urethra and exits the body during sex.
What Am I Looking For?
Early screenings can help discover cancer earlier. Just as it is recommended that women begin breast self-exams at age 20 and that colon cancer screenings begin at age 50, a monthly testicular cancer self-exam should begin at age 15. The first sign of testicular cancer is typically an enlargement or change in the feel of the testicle. Small lumps may form, which are initially painless. You may begin to feel a dull ache in the abdomen or groin as the lumps increase in size.
Here is how to do a testicular self-exam.
- While standing, preferably after a shower so the scrotum is relaxed, move the penis to one side and do a visual inspection in the mirror.
- Cup the scrotum in one hand and notice if there are any changes.
- Check testicles one at a time by roll each testicle between the thumb and forefingers checking for lumps or swelling. One of the testicles may be larger than the other. Normal testicles will be smooth and spongy.
- Check the epididymis. This is the sperm carrying tube that runs on the top and back of the testicle. It should feel soft and mobile. The point where the epididymis connects with the testicle should not be confused with a lump.
- Check the vas deferens, which is next to the epididymis and carries sperm to the back of the penis. The vas normally feels like a moveable smooth tube.
Contact your primary care provider if:
- There is a new lump on one of the testes, epididymis or vas deferens.
- There is a recent enlargement of one of the testes.
- You experience, over time, a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
Most lumps are non-cancerous but be sure to tell your doctor right away if you feel a change in your testicle, epididymis or vas deferens. It is also a good idea to contact your primary care provider even if you simply have any questions or concerns.
About the Author
Firas N. Shadad, MD is a hematologist and oncologist specializing in bladder, kidney and prostate cancers at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long