Almost 9,500 cases of testicular cancer are diagnosed each year, making it one of the most common cancers among young men in the United States. The average age of diagnosis is 33, but it can occur at any age, usually after puberty. Fortunately, the outlook for most cases of testicular cancer is quite good. In fact, the survival rate is greater than 97%, especially if the cancer is detected early before it spreads to other parts of the body.
Still, it's important to know how to check for testicular cancer so you can be sure you catch it early. Doing a self-examination is a quick and easy way to safeguard your health.
Who is at risk for testicular cancer?
Testicular cancer can occur in anyone with testicles, but some people have a higher risk. It's more likely to affect young and middle-aged men aged 20 to 39, but it can occur in children and teens too. About 8% of cases occur in men over age 55.
You may have a higher risk of getting this type of cancer if someone else in your family has had testicular cancer. If you have had cancer in one testicle, you are also more likely to get it in the other.
Sometimes babies who are born early have a condition in which the testicle does not move into its usual position in the scrotum. If you had an undescended testicle as a baby, you may be at higher risk for testicular cancer.
White men have a higher risk of testicular cancer than Black, Asian or American Indian men. HIV infection also raises the risk.
How to check for testicular cancer
Since early detection makes treatment easier and raises the chances of success, doctors perform testicular exams during a general physical exam. People can also learn how to check for testicular cancer themselves by doing regular testicular self-exams starting at about age 15.
Most people choose to check their testicles as part of their bath or shower routine. The warm water helps relax the skin of the scrotum, making it easier to feel the testicles.
- Use the back of one hand to hold your penis out of the way, then use your fingers to examine each testicle separately.
- Gently roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers.
- Look for any hard lumps or nodules and note any changes in how your testicles look.
Testicles usually don't match exactly — one may be larger, have a slightly different shape or hang lower than the other. Each testicle also has a small tube (called the epididymus) that sperm travel through, and people sometimes mistake this for a lump. As you get to know this part of your body, you will start to recognize what your normal is. Then you can be on the lookout for any concerning changes.
There is a kind of testicular cancer that doesn't cause a lump or other symptoms. This type may be detected during infertility treatment or other medical procedures. Sometimes this type of cancer, called "carcinoma in situ," progresses into more serious testicular cancer. This type of cancer is rarely a concern unless it has started to progress, so regular self-examinations are still the most effective way to guard against it.
A change in your testicle's size or shape may not always mean that you have cancer. However, it does always mean you should make an appointment with your doctor for an examination. There are other conditions that can cause fluid to collect around the testicle or cause veins in the testicle to get bigger. Whatever the condition is, the sooner you know what it is, the sooner you can rest assured that you'll get the care you need to stay healthy.
Checking for testicular cancer is easy, quick and something you can do on your own. Periodic testicular self-exams are an important way for people with testicles to ensure long-term health.