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Testicular self-exam

Testicular self-exam is an examination of the testicles that you do on yourself.

How the Test is Performed

The testicles (also called the testes) are the male reproductive organs that produce sperm and the hormone testosterone. They are located in the scrotum under the penis.

You can do this test during or after a shower. This way, the scrotal skin is warm and relaxed. It is best to do the test while standing.

  • Gently feel your scrotal sac to locate a testicle.
  • Use one hand to stabilize the testicle. Use your fingers and thumb on the other hand to firmly but gently feel the testicle. Feel the entire surface.
  • Check the other testicle in the same way.

Why the Test is Performed

A testicular self-exam may be done to check for testicular cancer .

Testicles have blood vessels and other structures that can make the exam confusing. If you notice any lumps or changes in a testicle, contact your health care provider right away.

Doctors may recommend that you do a testicular self-exam every month if you have any of the following risk factors:

Some, but not all expert organizations, recommend self-exam if you are a teenager or young adult (to about 35 years old). It is not clear that performing this exam when you have no symptoms would decrease the risk of dying from testicular cancer.

Normal Results

Each testicle should feel firm, but not rock hard. One testicle may be lower or slightly larger than the other.

Talk to your health care provider if you have questions.

What Abnormal Results Mean

If you find a small, hard lump (like a pea), have an enlarged testicle, or notice any other differences that do not seem normal, see your health care provider right away.

Call your health care provider if:

  • You cannot find one or both testicles -- the testicles may not have descended properly in the scrotum
  • There is a soft collection of thin tubes above the testicle -- this may be a collection of widened veins (varicocele )
  • You have pain or swelling in the scrotum -- this may be an infection or a fluid-filled sac (hydrocele ) causing a blockage of blood flow to the area

Sudden, severe (acute) pain in the scrotum or testicle that lasts for more than a few minutes is an emergency. If you have this type of pain, seek medical attention right away.

A lump in the testicle is often the first sign of testicular cancer. If you find a lump, see a health care provider right away. Most testicular cancers are very treatable. Keep in mind that some cases of testicular cancer do not show symptoms until they reach an advanced stage.

References

National Cancer Institute: Physician Data Inquiry (PDQ®) Testicular Cancer Screening. Bethesda, MD. Date last modified: July 19, 2012. Accessed January 7, 2013. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/testicular/Patient/page3

American Cancer Society. Testicular self-exam. Accessed August 14, 2013. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/testicularcancer/moreinformation/doihavetesticularcancer/do-i-have-testicular-cancer-self-exam

Montgomery JS, Bloom DA. The diagnosis and management of scrotal masses. Med Clin North Am. 2011;235-244.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for testicular cancer. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmation recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2011;154:483-486.

Updated: 12/27/2013

Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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