Testicular Cancer Self-Exams: Are They Effective?

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According to Lattin et al., testicular cancer is the most common solid cancer in males from age 20-39. This age range is considered to be the peak incidence of testicular cancer. In 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine called testicular cancer one of the “modern successes” in medicine due to its high cure rate, which is 95% if detected early. However, as observed in people like Lance Armstrong, founder of the Livestrong foundation, testicular cancer can have dire consequences if detected at an advanced stage.

Over 95% of testicular cancer derives from germ cells. Germ cells are the foundation for the gametes, haploid (n) cells that are used to fuse with another of the opposite sex to form a zygote (fertilized ovum). The remainder 5% are derived from Leydig or Sertoli cells, which produce testosterone and nourish developing sperm cells, respectively.

The most common method to diagnose testicular cancer is via a lump or mass in the testicular region. Therefore, the American Cancer Society and the American Urological Association recommend young males (especially in the age range from 20-39) to perform a testicular self-exam monthly.

The best time for males to examine themselves is after a hot shower, because the scrotum is relaxed and the testicles descend. If one testicle does not descend, then it is important to see a urologist for further clarification. According to Medline Plus:

  • Feel the scrotal sac to locate a testicle
  • Use one hand to stabilize the testicle, and another to palpate the entire surface area
  • Make sure that there are no pea-sized solid lumps present, whether they are moving or stationary
  • Check the other testicle in the same manner

If you feel pain when feeling the testicle, notice irregularities such as significant enlargement, then contact your doctor immediately. It is quite normal for one testicle to be slightly larger or smaller than the other.

It is important to note that sometimes, a nodule may not be felt until the testicular cancer has reached an advanced stage. Nevertheless, although the self-exam is not a hard-and-fast way to discover testicular cancer, it can be very helpful in early detection.

According to the National Cancer Institute, people with high risk factors include: “having a history of an undescended testicle, abnormal development of the testicles, a family history of testicular cancer, and a personal history of testicular cancer.” For these individuals, it is paramount that the self-exams are performed.

In essence, self-exams can be quite advantageous in diagnosing testicular cancer. However, it does not replace an ultrasound exam or a blood test for testicular cancer tumor markers. If you find a nodule/lump upon self-examination, contact your doctor immediately. In addition, there is a psychosocial aspect to performing this self-exam. Many young men might feel embarrassed or that it is unnecessary. It is critical that parents, guardians, and health care professionals communicate with their sons/patients to assure them of the potential life-saving effect that these exams can have. As a result, these exams along with breast self-exams can help both men and women detect cancer early and have a positive prognosis.

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SC Ali

About SC Ali

S.C. Ali is an author/editor. He has a degree in Chemistry, and is interested in the study and practice of medicine. His blog can be found here:

SC Ali

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