All men over the age of 15 need to look after those testicles. A self examination of the testicles should be part of every man’s monthly routine.

The testicles are also known as testes or balls and are found in the scrotum which hangs outside the body, behind the penis. They produce male hormones, such as testosterone as well as sperm.

What is a testicular self examination?

A testicular self examination is a monthly check of the shape and consistency of the testicles, to check for any possible changes.

The testicles usually feel firm, smooth and oval shaped. By checking them out every month you will be aware of how they normally feel, so any changes will be more easily apparent.

Although it is possible to have a benign lump or tumour, unfortunately most testicular lumps are malignant (cancer).

What is testicular cancer?

Cancer refers to a group of diseases, whereby cells grow in an uncontrolled way. The tumours that often result may invade organs next to it. In addition parts of the cancerous cells may break off and travel to other parts of the body – metastasis.

In comparison, benign tumours, or lumps, do not invade or spread and their size is usually limited.

Testicular cancer refers to abnormal cells which are found in the testicles. These could possibly spread around the man’s body, to the lymph glands or lungs for example, so investigations will be carried out to observe for metastases, or spread. This is done by a CT scan of the chest and abdomen, which gives a detailed view of internal organs.

What Symptoms am I looking for?

Any of the following should prompt you into getting your testicles checked out by your doctor:

  • A lump
  • A swelling
  • A shrinking
  • Pain or ache or heaviness in the testicles
  • Aching in the lower abdomen
  • A hard consistency, where previously it felt soft.

How do I check my testicles?

  • Firstly have a bath or shower to help your testicles to feel warm and relaxed. You are then more likely to notice a lump or hardness
  • Observe for swelling in the mirror
  • Feel each testicle using your 2 fingers below the testicle and your thumb on top, then roll the testicle gently between the fingers and thumb – this should not hurt
  • Feel the epididymis or sperm tube behind your testicle – this can feel lumpy normally, so you need to be familiar with how it feels, so that you don’t mix this up with a lump in your testicle
  • Don’t worry if one testicle is slightly bigger than the other, this is common
  • Any suspicious lumps should be checked out, not only for peace of mind, but because if it cancer it will not go away – and the longer you leave it the more likely it is to spread.

Why do I need to check my testicles?

It is vital that all men, from the age of 15 check out their testicles every month. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between 15 – 35 years of age – but the great news is that early detection and early treatment usually make it curable.

Other problems are possible in the testicles, such as varicose veins or infection, which needs to be treated with antibiotics. Get any changes checked out early, just in case.

Is testicular cancer curable?

Testicular cancer is nearly always curable, especially if it has been caught early.

Most testicular cancers are reported by men themselves, who have noticed a change. Self examination of the testicles is vital.

  • If the cancer has not spread outside the testicles then the cure rate is 98 – 99%.
  • If it has spread, but just locally, the cure rate is more than 90%. This is due to advances in chemotherapy.
  • If the cancer has spread further, to the lungs, liver, bones or brain, then the outcome is less positive. Half to three quarters of these men will be cured.

Treatment – Testicular cancer is treated with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy or a combination of these.

When surgery is necessary to remove a testicle, most men function very well with only one testicle and sexual performance and enjoyment of sex are not affected.

How can I help my family?

  • Encourage fathers, sons and brothers to check their testicles. If the advice above does not help, then ask your doctor to show you how to examine your testicles.
  • By being matter of fact about it will lessen the embarrassment for young men and take away the fear that is associated with cancer.
  • Remember most testicular cancers are curable, if caught early on. Any lump in the testicles should be seen by a doctor, who will usually arrange an ultrasound scan to check it out further.
  • Good nutrition is vital to all men and women. See below for a link to some great nutrition articles.
  • Do your self examination tomorrow after your morning shower and encourage all your mates to do the same.

Check out those testicles!

Useful Men’s Health articles

To understand more about cancer of the prostate visit our article Men & Prostate Glands

Many men are also at risk of heart disease. To find out more about Cardiovascular Health, check out our easy to understand article.

Nutrition is vital to health at any age and stage. Visit our Food and Nutrition section which contains expert advice from nutritionist and dietitian, Fiona Boyle.

Smoking increases the risk of many cancers. There is much help available to help you to stop smoking. Visit our article Quitting Smoking to help you on your way.

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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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