The testicles are two small, egg-shaped glands that are part of the male reproductive system. These glands are responsible for the production of both sperm and androgens, primarily testosterone. The testicles are held in a sac called the scrotum below the penis. This is because sperm production requires a lower temperature than that of the human body. While testicles form in the lower abdomen of a male fetus, they descend or drop into the scrotum towards the end of the pregnancy or at least by the time the baby turns 9 months.
Testicles have a firm, yet slightly spongy feel and should have the same firmness throughout. The size of the testicles should also be about the same, although most men may have one that is slightly larger than the other.
While there are minor variations in the way testicles look and feel between individuals, there are certain disorders that change the way they appear. Of these, testicular cancer is a condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Testicular cancer can affect a man or boy at any age, although it is most common in men between the ages of 15 to 44 years. When compared to many other forms of cancer, testicular cancer is fairly rare and is very treatable. Expert urology doctors note that early diagnosis is key to curing this cancer. By starting the treatment at the right time, the risk of death from this cancer is very minimal.
Even so, the success rate of cancer treatment ultimately depends on the cancer cell type that has spread in the testicles and the patient’s general health. With a proper treatment plan, the side effects of treating testicular cancer can be limited. For early detection of cancer, men are encouraged to identify the early signs and learn how to do a testicular self-exam. In this blog, we will learn more about testicular cancer, its symptoms and a step by step explanation on how to perform a testicular self-exam.
Understanding Testicular cancer
Studies show that on average, men wait about five months before seeing a physician with any kind of symptoms. However, if you have a malignant tumour, it may spread during this waiting period. Therefore, it is prudent that you see a urology doctor if you experience one or more of the symptoms below for more than two weeks.
- A painless lump in the testicle
- Testicular swelling with or without pain
- A feeling of weight in the scrotum
- Pain or a dull ache in the testicle, scrotum or groin area
- Feeling of tenderness or other noticeable changes to the male breast tissue.
In most cases, a tumour is the first visible sign of possible malignancy. Very few men experience pain at the onset of testicular cancer. So you must see a urologist on noticing any lumps on the testicle.
Lumps, pain and swelling of the testicles may not always be a sign of cancer. You may experience other testicular disorders such as Epididymitis (swelling of the epididymis), Testicular torsion, Inguinal hernia or Hydrocele.
While there is no definitive rule as to who may have testicular cancer, some people may be more at risk than others. Men with father or siblings tested for testicular cancer, with a history of undescended testis before birth or have abnormal cells in the testicle called germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS) are at higher risk of developing testicular cancer. Whether you fall into the risk group or not, men must make it a habit to regularly examine their testicles to catch potential problems and get treatment right away.
Why should you check your testicles for cancer?
Testicular self-exams are very useful in catching testicular cancer early. Men who regularly examine themselves are able to get an early diagnosis and intervention for cancer. Although the survival rates are dependent upon other factors like general health and the cancer cells’ response to chemotherapy and radiation, diagnosing the condition early increases the speed and chances of recovery.
So how can you perform a testicular self-exam? Some of our best urologists in Dubai recommend the following steps:
- The ideal time to do a testicular self-exam is during your bath. A warm shower will help relax the scrotum and the muscles holding the testicles, which makes it easier to check.
- Feel your testicles. Start from one side and gently roll the scrotum with your fingers to feel the surface of the testicle.
- Check for lumps, bumps or any unusual features. As cancerous tumours aren’t painful, you may not feel any discomfort with the lumps if any.
- Do note whether there are any size changes over time. Although pain is not common, swelling of the testicles and scrotum are telltale signs of a potential issue.
- Ensure that there is no soreness or heaviness. Repeat the steps by switching sides to the other testicle.
When looking for unusual masses, it is easy to mistake epididymis as an issue. The epididymis is a set of coiled tubes that line the back and top of each testicle, where the sperm mature. It is normal for this portion to feel softer and bumpier than the testicle it’s attached to. Similarly, it is normal to have one testicle bigger than the other or hang lower. There is nothing to be concerned about this anatomical feature.
Urologists also recommend performing a self-exam once a month. Checking your testicles regularly will help you notice even the slightest of changes to them. This way, you can seek medical attention right away if necessary.
What to do if you find something?
If you do find something during your routine check, see a urology doctor at the earliest. Being embarrassed or waiting for other symptoms to occur before taking an appointment may cause cancer to spread.
During your doctor’s visit, you can expect a medical examination, which may be followed by an ultrasound. Our urologist will do a physical examination of your scrotum, lower abdomen and lymph nodes to look for signs of cancer. He will check for lumps, signs of swelling or any unusual firmness.
You will also have to discuss your personal and family health history with your doctor for a comprehensive analysis. Cases of testicular cancer in the family, history of undescended testicles etc will be taken into consideration before suggesting an ultrasound. Sometimes a blood test to check for tumour markers may also be suggested to rule out any possibility of malignancy,
Fortunately, not all testicular lumps are malignant. Several benign conditions cause discomfort and even threaten fertility like cysts, infection of the testicles, injury, varicocele and hydrocele. On identifying the exact issue, your urologist can recommend the best treatment plan for a speedy recovery.
In case you are diagnosed with cancer, your urologist will work together with an oncologist to find the best treatment plan. This depends on the stage of cancer, the type of cancer cells and your general health at the time of diagnosis. You may require surveillance, surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy as part of your treatment. As some treatments lead to hormonal changes and infertility, your doctor may also recommend sperm banking before its start.
The risk of having testicular cancer or any other disorder differs from person to person. Still, it is important to learn how to do a testicular self-exam, as it helps you notice even the smallest of changes to your body and take the next step at the right time. If you have any concerns regarding your testicular health, visit our urology hospital in Dubai today.