Testicular Exam

Welcome to another topic on the well being of men in the sense of checking for testicular cancer. Just as important as a breast exam is to a woman so is a testicular examination is to the man.

One might ask why do a testicular exam? The answer is simple - to screen for testicular cancer. This cancer is a malignant tumour in a testicle. The testicles are oval-shaped sex glands in a sac of skin called the scrotum. The scrotum is located behind the penis (Figure 1). This type of cancer, although relatively rare, mostly affects men between the ages of 20 and 35.

 Figure 1 Shows position of testicles.

When new cells are needed, cells in the body normally divide or reproduce; sometimes cells will divide for no reason and without order, creating a mass of tissue called a tumour. Tumours can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

You can screen yourself for testicular cancer by doing a monthly testicular self-exam. By doing the exam themselves, they can look for signs of cancer of the testicles. To do a self-exam, follow these steps.

  1. Do the exam after a warm shower or bath. The warmth relaxes the skin of the scrotum, making it easier to feel for anything unusual.
  2. Use both hands to examine each testicle. Place your index and middle fingers underneath the testicle and your thumbs on top. Roll the testicle between your thumbs and fingers. (It's normal for testicles to be different in size.)
  3. As you feel the testicle, you may notice a cord-like structure on top and in back of the testicle. This structure is called the epididymis (figure 1). It stores and transports sperm. Do not confuse it with a lump.
  4. Feel for any lumps. Lumps can be pea-size or larger and are often painless. If you notice a lump, visit your doctor.
  5. You should also get a physical exam once a year.

After a while, you will know how your testicles feel and will be more alert to any changes. Testicular cancer may present with certain symptoms such as:

If you notice symptoms of testicular cancer, don't worry. Many times, changes in the testicles are not cancer. But, you should visit your doctor to find the cause of your symptoms. During your visit, you will be asked to talk about your symptoms and any illnesses you have had in the past. The doctor will exam the scrotum for lumps. Samples of blood and urine may be taken for testing. An ultrasound examination of the scrotum and its contents may be performed. (Ultrasound is a test that creates images by using high-frequency sound waves that are transmitted through body tissues.) You also may be given a chest X-ray. When cancer is thought to be present, the testicle must be removed and looked at under a microscope. Removing the testicle will not lead to problems with having children or sex. The remaining testicle will go on making sperm and the male hormone testosterone. Most cases of testicular cancer can be cured, even if the cancer has spread.

As mentioned at the start, this exam is similar to that of a self-exam of the breast in that if any abnormality is felt or observed the patient can consult the doctor. A testicular exam is something that can be done to protect the male from testicular cancer.

Until next time, when the topic will be on an aspect of well-being.

Excerpts taken from The Cleveland Clinic