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Cancer

Testicular cancer and self-examination

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian men between the ages of 15 and 29, but it’s talked about much less often than breast cancer or prostate cancer. Let’s change that.

A lot of different kinds of cells make up a testicle – some involved in making hormones, some for making sperm and others to hold them all together. Any of these kinds of cells can become cancerous, and they can lead to different kinds of cancer. Fortunately, if testicular cancer is detected early, it is treatable and can usually be cured.

Who is at risk of testicular cancer?

The exact cause of testicular cancer is unknown, but some factors may slightly increase your risk of developing it:

  • Abnormal testicle development when you were young
  • A family history of testicular cancer
  • A history of undescended testicles (one or both of your testicles did not descend into your scrotum before birth)
  • Klinefelter syndrome (a genetic disease caused by having an extra X chromosome)
  • Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV, the virus that causes AIDS)
  • A previous history of testicular cancer (if you previously had cancer in one testicle, you have a 3 to 4% chance of developing cancer in the other one)
  • Being Caucasian (Caucasian men have a greater risk of testicular cancer than men of native, African or Asian descent).

What are the symptoms?

Key signs to watch for include:

  • A lump or enlargement in either testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull ache in the belly or groin  
  • A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum
  • Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts

Who should perform a testicle self-exam?

It’s a good idea for all men past the age of 15 to do monthly self-exams and be familiar with their testicles. Get to know their normal shape, texture and size so that you’ll be able to recognize any abnormalities that may occur. When you go for medical check-ups, your physician should also perform an exam of your testicles.

How is a self-exam done?

The best time to do a self-exam is right after taking a bath or shower, when the muscles in the scrotum are relaxed.

Steps:

  1. Use a small mirror to visually examine your scrotum. Look for lumps or swelling.
  2. Holding your scrotum in the palm of your hand, feel for differences between the two testicles. One is usually slightly larger than the other – this is normal, but watch for other differences between them.
  3. Using your fingers, feel for lumps, swelling or tender spots.
  4. Be aware of any heaviness or hardness.
  5. Check your chest for breast tenderness and note whether you have abnormal pain in your belly or backache.
  6. In general, be alert to any changes that may have occurred.

What should I do if I find something abnormal?

If you find an abnormality, it’s time to see a doctor. When caught early, this is a highly treatable and curable cancer.

Testicular cancer and self-examination
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