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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.

About testicular awareness

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.

Illustration showing the male pelvis

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.

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.

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.

 

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

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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