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Testicular self-examination

Definition

Testicular self-examination is an examination of the testicles. The testicles (also called the testes) are the male reproductive organs that produce sperm and the hormone testosterone. They are located in the scrotum under the penis.

How the test is performed

Perform this test during or after a shower. This way, the scrotal skin is warm and relaxed. It's best to do the test while standing.

  1. Gently feel your scrotal sac to locate a testicle.
  2. Hold the testicle with one hand while firmly but gently rolling the fingers of the other hand over the testicle to examine the entire surface.
  3. Repeat the procedure with the other testicle.

Why the test is performed

A testicular self-exam is done to check for testicular cancer. Medical experts do not recommend doing regular self-exams if you are not in a high-risk group.

Normal testicles contain blood vessels and other structures that can make the exam confusing. If you notice any lumps or changes in your testicle, you need to contact your health care provider, even if you don't regularly perform self-exams.

You may perform a testicular self-exam every month if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Family history of testicular cancer
  • Past testicular tumor
  • Undescended testicle
  • You are a teenager or young adult (to about 35 years old)

Normal Values

Each testicle should feel firm, but not rock hard. One testicle may be lower or slightly larger than the other.

Always ask your health care provider if you have any doubts or questions.

What abnormal results mean

If you find a small, hard lump (like a pea), have an enlarged testicle, or notice any other concerning differences, see your health care provider as soon as you can.

Call your health care provider if:

  • You can't find one or both testicles -- the testicles may not have descended properly in the scrotum
  • There is a soft collection of thin tubes above the testicle -- it may be a collection of widened veins (varicocele)
  • You have pain or swelling in the scrotum -- it may be an infection or a fluid-filled sac (hydrocele) causing a blockage of blood flow to the area

Sudden, severe (acute) pain in the scrotum or testicle that lasts for more than a few minutes is an emergency. If you have this type of pain, seek immediate medical attention.

Special considerations

A lump on the testicle is often the first sign of testicular cancer. If you find a lump, see a health care provider immediately. Keep in mind that some cases of testicular cancer do not show symptoms until they reach an advanced stage, and most testicular cancers are very treatable.

References

Shaw J. Diagnosis and treatment of testicular cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:469-474.

Wampler SM, Llanes M. Common scrotal and testicular problems. Prim Care. 2010;37:613-626.

Montgomery JS, Bloom DA. The diagnosis and management of scrotal masses. Med Clin North Am. 2011;235-244.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for testicular cancer. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmation recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2011;154:483-486.


Review Date: 9/26/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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