The first sign of testicular cancer is usually a lump in the testicle. Some men discover the lump on their own, while others learn about it during a physical exam at their doctor’s office or from an intimate partner. Most testicular cancers can be found at an early stage, when they're small and haven't spread.
Performing Self-Exams for Testicular Cancer Detection
Men should perform self-exams for testicular cancer each month at home. These exams are simple and should take no more than a few minutes. Ideally, you should do this after a warm shower or bath so that your scrotum is relaxed. Here are the steps for a testicular exam:
- Check for swelling on the scrotal skin.
- Examine each testicle with both hands.
- The index and middle fingers should be placed beneath the testicle; the thumbs should be placed on top
- Roll the testicle between the fingers to check for irregularities in surface and texture
- Locate the epididymis (which is a soft and rope-like structure on the back of the testicle)
- Locating this structure will prevent you from mistaking it for an abnormality
Physician Exams for Detecting Testicular Cancer
There are several tests that your doctor may perform to detect the presence of testicular cancer. These are typically done if a man notices symptoms or finds a lump or has pain in his testicle(s). It can also be done if the doctor finds anything unusual in the testicles. These tests may include:
- A physical examination where your doctor will feel around your testicles and scrotum, and abdomen. A history of your health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- An ultrasound of your testicles, which will provide a picture of your internal organs, allowing your doctor to better detect any obvious lumps or tumors. An ultrasound wand will be placed against your scrotum and abdomen to look for visual abnormalities.
- A blood test to look for tumor markers (called a serum tumor marker test).
Testicular Cancer Diagnosis
A biopsy, or testing a small piece of the tumor for cancerous cells, is not typically done for testicular cancer to avoid spreading any cancerous cells that are present. The majority of doctors will be able to get a sense for whether a patient has testicular cancer through their blood tests and ultrasounds.
For most men, a testicular cancer diagnosis will require surgically removing the testicle. After the testicle is removed it will be biopsied. More than likely cancer will be found based on the other information gathered before surgery. The doctor will then ask the patient to have some additional tests run to see if the cancer has spread outside of the testicle. The type of testicular cancer will also be determined in the biopsy.