Testicular Cancer: Risk Factors and Early Detection

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have few or no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, you may decide to try to lose weight.

Who is at risk for testicular cancer?

Any male can get testicular cancer. But there are some factors that can increase your risk for testicular cancer. These include:

  • Age. About half of testicular cancers occur in men in their 20s and 30s. But it can occur at any age.

  • Race and ethnicity. White men have a higher risk for testicular cancer than men of other races and ethnicities.

  • Cancer in the other testicle. Men who have had testicular cancer are at higher risk for getting it in the other testicle.

  • Undescended testicle. Having an undescended testicle (cryptorchidism) is one of the main risk factors for testicular cancer. This risk might be lowered if surgery is done to correct the condition before a boy reaches puberty.

  • Family history. Men who have a close relative with testicular cancer have a higher risk of getting it. Still, most men who develop testicular cancer do not have a family history of the disease.

  • HIV infection. Men infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have a higher risk for testicular cancer.

What are your risk factors?

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for testicular cancer and what you can do about them. Unfortunately, most risk factors for testicular cancer, such as your age and family history, are not under your control.

But this doesn't mean there is nothing you can do. If you catch testicular cancer early, you have the best chance of a cure. While there are no blood tests used to screen for testicular cancer in men without symptoms, doing a testicular self-exam (TSE) regularly may help you find testicular cancer early. Some doctors recommend you do a TSE once a month. The American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn't have a recommendation for how often it should be done. The ACS does recommend that men be aware of testicular cancer. See your healthcare provider right away if you notice a lump on the testicle or other symptoms. These include testicular swelling or a dull ache or heavy sensation in the lower belly (abdomen). 

How to do a testicular self-exam

You should get to know the normal size, shape, and weight of your testicles. This will help you notice any changes over time. It is normal for one testicle to be lower or slightly larger than the other.

Doctors recommend that men do the exam during or right after taking a shower. This is because your scrotal skin is softer and more relaxed at this time. This makes it easier to feel any changes.

Follow these steps to do a self-exam:

  • Using both hands, gently roll each testicle between your fingers.

  • Find the epididymis. This is a string-like structure on the top and back of each testicle. This is a normal part of the testicles.

  • Feel for lumps under the skin, in the front or along the sides of either testicle. A lump may feel like a kernel of uncooked rice or a small, hard pea.

Have your doctor check any swellings or lumps you find.

Changes in the testicles can have causes other than cancer, but it is important to see your doctor if you are unsure about anything you see or feel. Also ask your doctor about testicular exams during your regular checkups. Most doctors agree that examining a man's testicles should also be part of regular physical exams. The doctor may be able to find any lumps you may have missed.