Testicular cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in one, or sometimes both, of the testicles. The testicles are a gland that produces sperm and testosterone. Performing regular testicular self-exams at home can help to identify any worrying signs early.

Anyone with testicles can develop testicular cancer. Not all people with testicles will necessarily identify as male and may hold any gender identity.

Despite it being a relatively rare cancer, it is the most common in people between the ages of 15–35 years with testicles, although it can occur at any age. In 2021, experts predict that 9,470 people will receive a diagnosis of testicular cancer in the United States.

The outlook for people with an early diagnosis of testicular cancer is extremely positive, with 97% surviving at least another 5 years after receiving the diagnosis. A key way to help early detection is by performing frequent at-home self-examinations of the testicles.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of testicular self-exams and how people can perform them at home.

Image depicting how to carry out a testicular self-examinationShare on Pinterest
Infographic by Diego Sabogal

It is advisable to perform a self-exam once a month from puberty onward. The exam itself will only take a few minutes. The best time is either during or straight after a shower or bath. This is because warm water relaxes the muscle within the scrotum and surrounding spermatic cords, which allows the testicles to descend farther, and makes it easier to feel any abnormalities.

The Center for Advocacy for Cancer of the Testes International (CACTI) and The British Association of Urological Surgeons recommend the following steps to perform a self-exam:

  1. While standing in front of a mirror, gently hold the scrotum and look for any swelling on the skin.
  2. Notice the size and weight of each testicle. It is common for one testicle to be larger than the other and for one to hang lower, so this should not cause concern.
  3. Examine each testicle with both hands thoroughly, one at a time. Place both thumbs on top of the testicle and index and middle fingers underneath it.
  4. Gently roll the testicle, feeling for any possible new lumps or swelling. Feel all around and underneath the testicle. Testicles should feel soft and firm, but not hard. The firmness should be the same all over, and the testicle should move freely around the scrotum.
  5. Feel for a soft, tube-like structure that runs above and behind the testicle. This is called the epididymis, and it carries sperm as it matures. Becoming familiar with how the epididymis feels will avoid confusing it for lumps and abnormalities.

Performing these steps once a month will make it easier to notice any changes that may require a medical professional. Changes to be looking for include the following:

  • any lumps or bumps on the testicle (keep in mind lumps that may indicate testicular cancer can often be painless)
  • any change in the size of the testicle
  • a feeling of heaviness in the testicle
  • any change in the texture of the testicle
  • any pain or discomfort while examining the testicle
  • a dull ache in the groin or lower back

Click here to learn more about male anatomy.

In many cases, people can detect early signs of testicular cancer by performing a self-exam at home. Self-examinations are simple, noninvasive, and only take a few minutes. They are a key step in detecting any changes that may require a medical professional.

But it is common for people to feel uncomfortable about conversations around testicular health, leading to misconceptions and a lack of confidence about what to do.

CACTI carried out a survey investigating peoples’ knowledge and attitudes toward testicular cancer and testicular self-exams. The survey polled over 1,000 men between the ages of 18–45 years. It found the following:

  • Just under 30% of men report that they did not know it is important to do a self-exam of their testicles.
  • 17% of men report that they know self-examinations are important, but do not know how to perform one.
  • Just under two-thirds of men report they would check more regularly if they knew how important self-exams can be.
  • Nearly 80% of men report that their greatest fear around testicular cancer is that they will not survive it, despite testicular cancer often having a very positive outlook.

Although it is a difficult topic for some, becoming informed, frequent self-examinations, and open communication with medical professionals are all important in achieving a positive outlook for testicular cancer.

Often, there is pressure for young men to maintain a culture of masculinity, which may act as a barrier that stops them from seeking medical advice. Due to this and the private nature of testicular health, people may not feel comfortable contacting a doctor about changes in their testicles immediately and may wait until symptoms worsen.

On average, men experiencing symptoms or changes in their testicles wait 5 months before contacting a medical professional.

But early detection is a key factor in a more positive outlook in testicular cancer, since it is possible for it to spread to other parts of the body. If a person experiences any of the changes listed above, or has any concerns about their testicular health, the next step is to seek advice from a medical professional promptly.

There are many reasons a change in the testicles may occur other than cancer. Possible examples are a collection of fluid in the scrotum, called a hydrocele.

Changes in the testicles may also be due to varicoceles, which occur when the veins inside the scrotum become enlarged. Epididymitis and orchitis also cause changes in the testicles, but are usually associated with pain.

Since there are a variety of conditions that may cause these symptoms, it is crucial to contact a medical professional about any changes to the testicles to either rule out testicular cancer or to catch it early.

If the medical professional believes there is a chance of testicular cancer, they will arrange further tests to decide the best course of treatment.

Click here to learn more about causes of testicle lumps.

There are many conditions that may cause changes to the testicles, and although rare, testicular cancer is one of them. It is common for a person to notice early symptoms of testicular cancer during a self-examination.

Although it is a difficult topic for some to think about, with early detection and medical support, the outlook for most people diagnosed with testicular cancer is extremely positive.