Most testicular cancers can be found at an early stage. In some men, early testicular cancers cause symptoms that lead them to seek medical attention. Most of the time a lump on the testicle is the first sign or the testicle might be swollen or larger than normal. But some testicular cancers might not cause symptoms until they have grown quite large and/or have spread to other parts of the body.
Most doctors agree that checking a man’s testicles should be part of a general physical exam. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends a testicular exam by a doctor as part of a routine cancer-related check-up.
The ACS advises men to be aware of testicular cancer and to see a doctor right away if they find a lump on a testicle. Regular testicular self-exams have not been studied enough to show if they lower the risk of dying from this cancer. This is why the ACS does not have a recommendation about regular testicular self-exams for all men. Still, some doctors recommend that all men examine their testicles monthly after puberty.
Men with risk factors, such as an undescended testicle, previous testicular cancer, or a family member who has had this cancer should seriously think about monthly self-exams. If you have risk factors, talk it over with a doctor. Each man has to decide for himself whether to examine his testicles each month.
Here are instructions on how to do it if you decide self-exam is right for you.
How to do testicular self-exam
The best time to do the self-exam is during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed. To do a testicular self-exam:
- Hold your penis out of the way and check one testicle at a time.
- Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers of both hands and roll it gently between your fingers.
- Look and feel for any hard lumps or smooth rounded bumps or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testicles.
It’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other, and for one to hang lower than the other. You should also know that each normal testicle has an epididymis, a small, coiled tube that can feel like a small bump on the upper or middle outer side of the testicle. Normal testicles also have blood vessels, supporting tissues, and tubes that carry sperm. Some men may confuse these with abnormal lumps at first. If you have any concerns, ask your doctor.
A testicle can get larger for many reasons other than cancer. Other non-cancerous problems, such as hydroceles and varicoceles (described in the section, “Other causes of testicular or scrotal symptoms”), can sometimes cause swellings or lumps around a testicle. It’s easy to confuse these with a tumor. If you have any doubts, see a doctor.
If you choose to check your testicles, in time you will learn what’s normal for you and will be able to tell when something is different.
What if you find something different?
If you find something unusual or something you’re not sure about, either during a self-exam or at any other time, see a doctor right away.
The doctor will ask if you’re having any symptoms (such as pain) and how long you’ve had them. During a physical exam, the doctor will feel the testicles for swelling or tenderness and for the size and location of any lumps. The doctor might also examine your abdomen (belly), groin area, and other parts of your body, looking for any possible signs of cancer spread.
If anything abnormal is found, the doctor may use an ultrasound to look inside the scrotum. This is an easy and painless way of finding out whether there’s a tumor or another problem in the testicles. Other tests might be done as well. (For more details on the tests doctors use to diagnose testicular cancer, see our document Testicular Cancer.)
Last Medical Review: 11/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/05/2013