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Testicular cancer often has symptoms. If you have symptoms — and even if you don’t — a nurse or a doctor can give you a testicular exam, which can help catch it early.  

What are the symptoms of testicular cancer?

Most people who have testicular cancer will notice symptoms at some point. The most common testicular cancer symptom is a lump or a swelling in your testicle. Lumps can be as small as a pea. Swelling can feel like an irregular thickening on your testicle. Symptoms are often painless, but there might be some discomfort.

Other symptoms may include:

  • a change in the usual size or feel of one or both of your testicles

  • aches or pains in your back, groin, lower abdomen, or scrotum

  • a sensation of heaviness in your scrotum or bloating in your lower abdomen

  • breast growth or soreness

There are other conditions and health issues, like an injury to your testicle, an infection, or an inflammation, that aren’t cancer but can cause the same symptoms. Talking to a nurse or doctor can help you figure out what’s normal for you.  

How’s testicular cancer diagnosed?

Most cases of testicular cancer can be found at an early stage. It’s usually discovered because a person is having a symptom, like a lump that can be felt in their testicle. The first step in diagnosing testicular cancer is having a doctor or nurse do an exam to feel for any abnormal lumps or swelling. If they end up finding any possible signs of cancer they’ll give you more tests.

A testicular ultrasound is a painless test that doctors can use to diagnose testicular cancer. Blood tests, surgery, and other imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI can also be used to diagnose testicular cancer or determine if your cancer has spread.

Don't let fear prevent you from getting checked out. Only a doctor or nurse can diagnose or rule out cancer. And the sooner cancer is diagnosed and treated, the less likely it is to spread to other parts of your body.

How do I do a testicular self-exam?

For most people, early testicular cancer causes a lump on one of their testicles that can be detected before the disease has a chance to become more serious. Sometimes their testicle is swollen or larger than usual but there aren’t any lumps. Most doctors include testicular exams as a part of a general wellness exam or physical.

People with risk factors, such as an undescended testicle, previous testicular cancer, or a family member who has had testicular cancer might benefit from monthly testicular cancer self-exams. If you have risk factors for testicular cancer, talk it over with your doctor.

If you’re interested in doing monthly self-exams, here are the steps:

The best time to do a self-exam is during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed.

  • Move your penis out of the way and look at your testicles in a mirror. Check for any swelling or bumps. Make sure that each of your testicles is about the same size as the other. It’s normal for one to be slightly larger or hang slightly lower than the other.

  • Hold one of your testicles with your index and middle fingers underneath and your thumb on top. Your testicle is normally oval, smooth, and firm.

    • Feel for lumps by rolling it gently between your thumb and fingers. Note any changes in size, shape, or feel.
    • Check out your epididymis — a soft, tightly coiled tube in which sperm mature — along the top and back of each of your testicles. It may feel a little bumpier than your testicle.
    • Also feel the spaghetti-like tube called the vas deferens that goes up from the epididymis. It should feel like a smooth cord.

Knowing how all these parts feel will help keep you from confusing them with cancerous lumps.

  • Repeat the exam on your other testicle.

Normal testicles have blood vessels, tissue, and tubes that carry sperm. All these things can feel bumpy or lumpy, and you may be confused about what’s normal. But as you get more familiar with the feel of your testicles, you’ll be better prepared to know when something doesn’t feel right. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.