Testicular self exams: how to do them and what to look for?Among all types of cancer, testicular cancer is the most common cancer among young Canadian men between the ages of 15 and 29. Fortunately, it is also the most treatable. Learn why self-exams are so important and how to do them.
What is the risk of developing testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer occurs when cells multiply uncontrollably, forming a tumour (lump) in a testicle. The exact cause of this abnormal cell multiplication is still not known.
The risk of developing testicular cancer is slightly higher in men who were born with a non-descended testicle (inside the body) or genital anomaly, have a family history of testicular cancer, are infertile, or who are very tall. Just over 1,000 cases are diagnosed every year in Canada, compared to more than 20,000 new cases of prostate cancer per year.
Early detection is key for testicular cancer
As with many other cancers, early detection is associated with higher survival rates. When testicular cancer is diagnosed in the early stages when still confined to the testes, the five-year survival rate after diagnosis is 99%.
Where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the back of the abdomen, the survival rate is still excellent (96%), but it drops markedly if the cancer has already metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body by the time it is diagnosed (73%).
How to do a testicular self-exam and what to look for
Testicular self-exams are important because early detection of any anomaly can mean the difference between a difficult-to-treat cancer and full recovery.
Recommended self-exam method:
- Do your self-exam after taking a shower or bath, as heat relaxes the muscles of the scrotum, making it easier to detect any irregularities.
- Stand in front of a mirror so you can do a thorough visual inspection. Check for any inexplicable signs of swelling, e.g., redness, on the scrotal skin.
- Hold your scrotum in the palm of your hand and feel the weight of your testicles. It is normal for one to be slightly larger than the other and for the two not to be perfectly aligned.
- Check for any changes in size or alignment, for example, if one testicle is lower or larger than usual.
- Gently but firmly roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers. It should feel smooth. It is normal for your testicles to be sensitive to the touch, especially the rope-like epididymis behind each one. However, you should not feel pain during the self-exam. Check for any lumps, growths or abnormal sensitivity.
If you notice anything unusual, make an appointment to discuss it with your doctor. If you prefer, your doctor can do this exam during your annual check-up.
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The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide complete information on the subject matter or to replace the advice of a health professional. This information does not constitute medical consultation, diagnosis or opinion and should not be interpreted as such. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions about your health, medications or treatment.