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Testicular cancer awareness

How your testicles look and feel may not be something you’ve given much thought to. But it pays to be familiar with what’s normal for you, and to know a few potential changes to look out for. This can help you to find lumps and swellings that may be a sign of testicular cancer at an early stage. If testicular cancer is found early, it can almost always be cured.

An image showing the male pelvis

About your testicles

Your testicles, also known as testes, are two small, oval-shaped structures inside your scrotum. Their main role is to produce sperm and the male sex hormone, testosterone. Testosterone gives you your sex drive (libido) and ability to get an erection.

Most lumps you can get in your testicles aren’t testicular cancer and are caused by other things. These include the following.

  • An inguinal hernia. This is a weak spot in the muscles of your lower tummy that allows fatty tissue or a bit of your bowel to pop out into your scrotum.
  • Hydrocele. This is a collection of fluid in your scrotum.
  • Epididymal cysts. These are fluid-filled lumps.
  • A varicocele. This is swelling in the scrotum that’s caused by a collection of abnormally large blood vessels.

How to be testicle aware

Once you hit puberty, it’s important to check your testicles regularly – ideally, every month. This will help you get an idea of their usual look and feel so if there are any changes, you’ll notice them.

The best time to do it is while you’re in the shower or bath, or just afterwards. The warmth will relax your scrotum and make it easier to feel anything unusual. Here’s what to do.

  • Stand in front of a mirror and check if you can see anything unusual like any swelling on the skin.
  • Feel the size and weight of each testicle. You may notice that one testicle is larger or hangs lower than the other. This is completely normal.
  • Get to know the feel of your testicles by rolling each one between your fingers and thumb. They should feel smooth, without any lumps or swellings.
  • Compare your testicles with each other – get to know any differences between them.

Towards the top, at the back of each testicle, you’ll feel a soft, tender tube. This is called the epididymis, and stores sperm, so it’s good to remember where it is so you don’t mistake it for a lump. Cancerous lumps don’t usually develop here but on the sides or in front of your testicle. You might also feel a small and firm lump near the top of your testes. This might well be what’s called the Hydatid of Morgagni and is completely normal. But if you’re concerned about any lump, contact your GP for advice.

Testicle changes to get advice about

When you check your testicles, look for any:

  • lump, swelling or hardening – and whether any lumps feel like they’re attached to your testicle or are free-floating
  • change in consistency – one may feel like it’s full of fluid, for example
  • change in size, shape or weight

Other changes to look out for are:

  • a feeling of heaviness in your scrotum
  • any pain or a heavy or dull aching feeling in your testicle or scrotum
  • dull ache in your groin

These symptoms can sometimes be a sign of testicular cancer (but not always). If you have any of them, contact your GP for advice.

FAQ: Can injuring my testicle cause testicular cancer?

No, nobody has proved that there’s any link between injuring your testicles and getting testicular cancer. But if you injure your testicles, it can cause swelling and inflammation that may hide lumps or other changes and make cancer difficult to detect. On the flip side, an injury to your testicles may bring a lump to your attention.

Doctors don’t yet know exactly why some men develop testicular cancer but a number of things can make it more likely. It’s probably caused by a combination of things. See our separate topic on testicular cancer to learn more about these. And, if you notice any changes in your testicles or have any concerns about testicular cancer, go and see your GP.

FAQ: What will happen if I have a lump in my testicle?

You might feel embarrassed about seeing your GP about a lump in your testicle, but remember this is nothing new to them. They’ll ask about your symptoms and examine you, and may also ask you about your medical history. If your GP thinks the lump isn't normal, they’ll refer you to see a specialist. This is usually a urologist – a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions that affect the urinary system and genitals. They’ll feel the lump to see if it’s likely to be a cancer or not.

You’ll probably need to have some blood tests and an ultrasound scan of your testicles. These will show whether the lump is caused by cancer or another condition.

The outlook for men diagnosed with testicular cancer is one of the best for all cancers. More than nine out of 10 men who are diagnosed early are cured.

FAQ: What is a hydrocele?

A hydrocele is a collection of fluid in your scrotum that causes swelling. It isn’t painful.

Your testicle is surrounded by a protective covering. This makes a fluid that helps your testicles 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 happen if you injure your testicles, or get an infection, but may also be caused by testicular cancer. Some baby boys are born with a hydrocele – these don’t usually need treatment and get better within a year.

If your hydrocele is small, you’re unlikely to need any treatment. If it’s large and uncomfortable, you may need to have an operation to drain or remove the hydrocele.

Details

  • Worried about testicular cancer?

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  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    Sources

    • Testicular cancer. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 3 October 2016
    • Testicular cancer. European Association of Urology. uroweb.org, published 2017
    • Oldenburg J, Fosså SD, Nuver J, et al. Testicular seminoma and non-seminoma: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Ann Oncol 2013; 24(Suppl 6):vi125–32. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdt304
    • Testes and epididymis anatomy. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 30 June 2016
    • Do I have testicular cancer? American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org, last medical review 29 March 2016
    • Reproductive endocrinology. Oxford handbook of endocrinology and diabetes (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published March 2014
    • Lumps in the groin and scrotum. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked 20 June 2014
    • Varicocele. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked 16 June 2014
    • Testicular self-examination. British Association of Urological Surgeons. www.baus.org.uk, published June 2017
    • Eponymous terms and rarities. Oxford handbook of clinical surgery (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published March 2013
    • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2017. www.nice.org.uk
    • Testicular cancer risks and causes. Cancer Research UK. www.cancerresearchuk.org, last reviewed 15 January 2014
    • Testicular cancer. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked 24 November 2014
    • Hydrocele. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 20 March 2017
    • Hydrocele. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 19 September 2016
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  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, October 2017.

    Expert reviewer, Professor Raj Persad, Consultant Urological Surgeon

    Next review due October 2020

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