When Do I Need a Testicular Exam?

The testicles are part of a man’s sex organs. They’re in a pouch called the scrotum, located behind and below the penis. They produce sperm and the male hormone testosterone.

Every man should have a testicular exam. The question is, when?

There is no recommendation that a testicular exam should be part of you annual physical exam. But your doctor may suggest that you do a self-exam on a regular basis. Some doctors recommend checking your testicles once a month. Others say its fine to have your doctor do it once a year. 

If you are having problems, or notice a lump or other changes in how your testicles feel or look, see your doctor.

Exams can be a good way to find lumps that could be cancer or another problem.

How Do I Do It?

There’s no harm in a self-exam, and doctors say it’s good to be familiar with how your testicles look and feel so you can notice any changes.

A self-exam is quick and painless. It takes only a few simple steps:

  • It’s best to do it after a warm shower, since heat relaxes the skin of the scrotum.
  • Hold your penis out of the way.
  • Examine one testicle at a time using both hands. Roll it between your thumb and fingers.
  • One might be of a different shape or size than the other. That’s OK, although the shapes and sizes shouldn’t change. One might hang lower than the other. That’s normal, too.
  • There’s a cordlike structure behind each testicle that stores and moves sperm. It’s not a lump.

A pea-sized lump is what you’re looking for. If you see or feel something like that, contact your doctor. Remember that it’s probably nothing to worry about.

Is It Cancer?

If there is a suspicious lump, your doctor might run a painless ultrasound to get a better look for signs of cancer. He then might decide on surgery to remove the testicle and examine it. That’s how testicular cancer is diagnosed. 

Here are some facts to know about testicular cancer:

  • It is rare. Your chance of getting it is about 1 in 250.
  • It is the most common cancer in men age 15 to 34.
  • It is highly curable. The risk of dying from it is 1 in 5,000.
  • It’s more likely to be treated and cured if it’s found early.

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Other Things to Consider

Testicular cancer generally can’t be prevented. These things could increase the likelihood of getting it:

  • Race -- Non-Hispanic white men are at a higher risk
  • Family history
  • An undescended testicle

A lump is the most common symptom, but others include:

  • Firm testicle Swelling or fluid buildup in the scrotum
  • Feeling of scrotal heaviness 

A lump or other symptom doesn’t always mean you have cancer or any other problem.

Doctors and medical organizations don’t agree on the benefits of a self-exam. The American Cancer Society says it’s enough to have your doctor check you every year as part of a routine checkup.

Talk it over with your doctor. The two of you can decide whether you should do it yourself or leave it to him.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 25, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Testicular exam: basics.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Testicular cancer and self-exam.”

American Cancer Society: “Testicular Cancer.” "Key Statistics for Testicular Cancer."

National Cancer Institute: "Testicular Cancer Screening – Patient Version."

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