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Testicular awareness

Being testicle aware means knowing how your testicles look and feel, and what changes to look for. This can help you to find lumps and swellings early that may turn out to be testicular cancer. This is very important as, diagnosed early, testicular cancer is usually straightforward to treat, and almost always curable.

Your testicles are two small, oval-shaped structures found inside your scrotum (the loose pouch of skin that hangs below your penis). They are also known as your testes. Your testicles’ main functions are to produce sperm and the hormone testosterone.

Sperm are created in your testicles and then move into the epididymis (a long, narrow tube inside your testicle) where they are stored for several weeks while they mature. When you ejaculate, sperm move from your epididymis to the ejaculatory duct where they are mixed with liquid called semen.

Testosterone is the main male sex hormone. It's what causes you to have a deep voice, hair on your face, develop muscle and have the ability to get an erection. Testosterone is also what gives you your sex drive (libido).

Testicular cancer is unusual in that it’s more likely to develop in younger men (under 55). It’s the most common form of cancer in men aged 15 to 44, with most men who get the condition developing it between the ages of 25 and 34. However, overall testicular cancer is much less common than many other types of cancer – in 2008 about 2,000 men were diagnosed with it in the UK.

Examining your testicles regularly could help you pick up testicular cancer when it’s still in the early stages. Cancers that are found earlier are easier to treat, which is why it's important to know what is normal for you. Testicular cancer in particular is almost always cured by a simple operation if it's diagnosed early enough. However, many people delay seeing their GP, by which time the cancer has spread. It’s important to see your GP as soon as possible if you notice something unusual, otherwise you may need more complex treatment including chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

By knowing how your testicles usually look and feel you can spot any changes quickly. Most lumps found in testicles aren't cancer, but are caused by other conditions, such as a hernia or a hydrocele (a collection of fluid in your scrotum). However, it's always best to check with your GP if you notice anything different or unusual.

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Details

  • How to be testicle aware How to be testicle aware

    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.

    Bupa Health Assessment: Testicular check

    If you are concerned about testicular cancer, Bupa can help you get a diagnosis.

  • Testicle changes to seek advice about Testicle changes to seek advice about

    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.

  • Worried about testicular cancer?

    Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with a Bupa health assessment. Find out more today.

  • FAQs FAQs

    What will happen if I go to my GP about a lump in my testicle?

    Answer

    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.

    Explanation

    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.

    Depending on whether the cancer has spread, you may also have other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

    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?

    Answer

    There is currently no evidence that an injury to your testicles will cause testicular cancer.

    Explanation

    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?

    Answer

    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.

    Explanation

    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.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Possible symptoms of cancer. CancerHelp UK (Cancer Research UK). http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org, published November 2011
    • Testicular cancer FAQs. Association for International Cancer Research. www.aicr.org.uk, accessed 28 June 2012
    • The testicles. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk, published May 2010
    • Testicular cancer – UK incidence statistics. CancerHelp UK (Cancer Research UK). http://info.cancerresearchuk.org, published August 2011
    • Testicular cancer. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published February 2012
    • Testicular cancer symptoms. CancerHelp UK (Cancer Research UK). http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org, published January 2012
    • Testicular self-exam. American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org, published June 2012
    • Symptoms of testicular cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk, published May 2010
    • Testicular cancer. Cancer Recovery Foundation. www.cancerrecovery.org.uk, accessed 29 June 2012
    • Testicular cancer. Better Health Channel. www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, published September 2011
    • Kinkade S. Testicular cancer. Am Fam Physician 1999; 59(9):2539–44
    • Testicular cancer risks and causes. CancerHelp UK (Cancer Research UK). http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org, published June 2012
    • Hydrocele. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published August 2011
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Produced by Polly Kerr, Bupa Health Information Team, August 2012.

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