Are Testicular Self-Exams Beneficial?
Testicular cancer, varicoceles and hydroceles are examples of testicular disorders that can often be detected by performing a self-exam. Routine testicular self-exams can help you become more familiar with your anatomy so you can detect any abnormalities or symptoms that indicate it's time to see your doctor.
Is it necessary to perform testicular self-exams?
Testicular examinations are often performed by doctors as part of routine physical and wellness exams that take place every one to three years. Many doctors also recommend that men perform self-examinations of their testicles every month after puberty so they can detect and report any abnormalities.
Performing testicular self-exams may benefit you if you meet common risk factors for testicular cancer, which include having an undescended testicle or a family or personal history of testicular tumors and/or cancer.
A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Men's Health recommends that testicular self-exams are a part of the standard of care for men. The American Urological Association's Men's Health Checklist includes testicular self-exams for cancer screening at all ages, and the AUA states the exams are important for early detection.
The American Cancer Society does not have formal recommendations regarding testicular self-exams, stating these exams have not been studied enough to determine whether they reduce the mortality rate for testicular cancer.
Can a testicular self-exam replace a doctor's visit?
A self-exam should not replace routine doctor's visits because some testicular cancers may not produce symptoms until they've progressed to an advanced stage. However, a self-exam can still be useful in detecting problems and takes only a few minutes to perform.
Testicular cancer is not as common as other cancers, and it is a treatable condition with a low mortality rate. Discovering a testicular disorder in its early stages allows you to seek treatment before it progresses and contributes to other health problems, including infertility.
How to perform a testicular self-exam
A testicular self-exam should be performed after a bath or shower when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. This gives you a better chance of being able to detect any changes in your testicles:
- Cup one of your testicles in both of your hands.
- Roll the testicle between your thumb and fingers while applying slight pressure.
- Familiarize yourself with the epididymis, which are the tube-like structures that run along the back of each testicle.
- Feel your testicle for any hard lumps or masses, along with any other irregularities or changes in size. Be aware of whether you feel any unusual heaviness or dull soreness.
- Repeat all of these steps on the other testicle.
Keep in mind that it's completely normal for one of your testicles to be larger or hang lower than the other. Avoid confusing the epididymis with abnormal lumps so you don't have to make any unnecessary trips to the doctor. If you perform testicular self-exams every month, you can quickly and easily detect any problems.
When you should see a doctor
Contact your doctor if you feel any lumps when performing a testicular self-exam, as lumps are one of the earliest signs of testicular cancer.
You should also make an appointment with your doctor if you feel any other changes in your testicles, such as swollen veins above the testicle (which may indicate a varicocele) or pain and swelling in the scrotum (which may be a hydrocele).
Severe, sudden pain in the testicle or scrotum that lasts longer than a few minutes can be a sign of testicular torsion and is considered a medical emergency that should be addressed right away, as this may indicate an infection or an injury.
A doctor can examine your testicles to confirm your symptoms and offer a possible diagnosis. They may also order a blood test, ultrasound or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
Ask your doctor for more information about testicular self-exams and how often you should perform them based on your health and medical history. Your doctor can also keep you updated on any new recommendations and guidelines for testicular self-exams released by reputable medical organizations.