When talk turns to testicles, it’s usually in a joking way. However, there is nothing funny about testicular cancer. While testicular cancer accounts for just 1% of all cancers in males, it is the most common form of cancer in men ages 15 to 35. For men in that age range, regular self-exams could be lifesaving.
"It literally takes one minute, once a month," says Christopher Dechet, MD, director of the urologic oncology group at Huntsman Cancer Institute and a professor in the Division of Urology at University of Utah Health.
When to do a self-exam
The best time to do a testicular self-exam is right after getting out of a warm shower or bath. "The warmth relaxes the scrotum and makes it easier to feel for irregularities," Dechet says.
How to do a self-exam
Examine each testicle with both hands, firmly but gently rolling it between your thumbs and fingers to feel for any irregularities in the skin or structure of the testicle.
"You are looking for painless lumps, hardening, enlargement, or shrinking," Dechet says. "However, don't be alarmed if one testicle feels larger than the other. That's normal.”
You only need to be concerned if you notice a change in size from exam to exam. Also, do not be alarmed if you feel a soft rope-like structure on the back of your testicles. That's called the vas deferens and it’s completely normal. It's the tube that carries sperm.
When to see a doctor
If you find something out of the ordinary during your self-exam, don't wait to seek help. Testicular cancer can be easily treated when caught early. However, waiting to seek care could give it time to spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body; then, treatment is more involved. "If you find something, it's best to see a doctor right away," Dechet says.