All men's bodies are slightly different, so it's important to be familiar with the look and feel of your own testicles. Knowing what's right for you will help you spot any changes quickly.
From puberty onwards, check your testicles regularly every month. The best time to do this is during or soon after a warm bath or shower when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. Hold your scrotum in the palms of both hands. Feel the size and weight of each testicle. You may notice that one testicle is larger or hangs lower than the other.
Get to know the feel of your testicles by rolling each one between your finger and thumb. They should feel smooth, without any lumps or swellings. Compare each testicle – get to know any differences between them. Towards the top at the back of each testicle you will feel a soft, tender tube – this is the epididymis. This is meant to be there so don't mix it up with a lump.
When you examine your testicles, look for:
- a painless lump or hardening in either testicle
- an unusual collection of fluid in your scrotum
- a feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
- swelling or enlargement of either testicle
Other changes to look out for are:
- pain or discomfort in your testicle or scrotum
- a dull ache in the lower part of your back, abdomen (tummy), scrotum or groin
- swollen, tender breasts or nipples – this can be caused by hormone changes
- reduced sex drive
- blood in your semen
These symptoms aren't always caused by testicular cancer but if you have any of them, see your GP.
What will happen if I go to my GP about a lump in my testicle?
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. If your GP thinks you may have cancer, you will be referred to a specialist for more tests. These may include blood tests and an ultrasound scan.
The doctor you’re referred to is likely to be a urologist – this is a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions that affect the urinary system. He or she will examine you and may be able to tell by feeling the lump whether it's likely to be a cancer or not.
You're likely to have blood tests and an ultrasound scan of your testicles. An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your scrotum and your testicle. It can help to show whether the lump is caused by cancer or another condition.
The ultrasound scan is quick, easy and painless, and you probably won’t need any further tests as it’s very accurate. The scan may well rule out cancer but if the results suggest that there is an abnormality, you will be advised to have an operation so that a surgeon can remove your testicle.
The outlook for men diagnosed with testicular cancer is one of the best for all cancers. Over nine out of 10 men who are diagnosed early are cured.
Can an injury to the testicles cause testicular cancer?
There is currently no evidence that an injury to your testicles will cause testicular cancer.
There is currently no known link between an injury to your testicles and testicular cancer. However, an injury can cause swelling and inflammation that may hide lumps or other changes. Alternatively, an injury to your testicles may bring a lump to your attention.
The exact reasons why you may develop testicular cancer aren't fully understood at present. However, there are a number of factors that make it more likely. Some of the main ones are listed below.
- Undescended testicles (cryptorchidism). This is when one or both of your testicles doesn't drop down from your abdomen (tummy) into your scrotum soon after you’re born.
- Hypospadias. This is a condition where your urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder and out through your penis) opens underneath your penis, rather than at the end of it. If you have hypospadias, you're twice as likely to develop testicular cancer.
- Family history. If your brother or father has had testicular cancer, you're more likely to develop it.
- Previous testicular cancer.
- Fertility problems and poor quality sperm. If you have fewer or less active sperm than is usual, or a lot of abnormal sperm, you're more likely to develop testicular cancer.
- Mumps orchitis. This is a rare complication of mumps.
It’s likely that testicular cancer is caused by a combination of factors.
If you notice any changes in your testicles or have any concerns about testicular cancer, see your GP as soon as possible.
What is a hydrocele?
A hydrocele is a collection of fluid in your scrotum that causes a painless swelling. Most hydroceles are caused by an injury or infection, but some can be caused by testicular cancer. Some baby boys are born with a hydrocele – these don’t usually need treatment and are likely to get better within a year.
Your testicle is surrounded by a protective covering. This makes a fluid that lubricates your testicles and helps them to move freely. Any extra fluid usually drains away but sometimes it can build up if your body makes too much, or if it doesn't empty away properly. This collection of fluid is called a hydrocele.
A hydrocele usually causes a soft, often painless, swelling in your testicle. It can be caused by an injury to your testicles or an infection, but may also be caused by testicular cancer.
If your hydrocele is small, you're unlikely to need treatment. If it's large and uncomfortable, your GP may refer you to a urologist – a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions of the urinary system. He or she may recommend you have the hydrocele drained or removed using surgery.
If you develop any lump or swelling in your testicle, see your GP for advice.
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