In the majority of cases, it is possible to find testicular cancer while it is still in the early stages. Some men will even have early symptoms associated with this type of cancer that cause them to visit their doctor. In most cases, the first symptom will be a lump along the testicle although it may also be larger than normal or swollen without a lump. However, some men won't notice anything wrong until cancer has spread or grown larger. One of the best ways to prevent this is to learn the ways to check for testicular cancer and having a testicular exam done by your doctor.
How to Check for Testicular Cancer Yourself
The ideal time to perform a testicular cancer exam yourself is right after a warm shower as your scrotal skin will be more relaxed at this time. Start by finding your testicle within the scrotal sac. Now hold your testicle firmly but gently, rolling it between the fingers. This will allow you to feel the whole surface of your testicle. First examine one of your testicles, then move on to the other.
Although there are many instructions on checking for testicular cancer yourself, there aren't official guidelines telling you how often to do a self-exam. Some doctors suggest doing so monthly. Always let your doctor know right away if you notice something abnormal.
You can learn more about conducting a self-exam by watching this video:
Signs of Testicular Cancer to Keep in Mind
Learning how to check for testicular cancer by yourself is pointless if you don't know what you are looking for. In most cases, the men who have testicular cancer discover it themselves. Most men notice a painless lump or mass in one of their testicles, though this isn't always the case. You may also experience swelling, pain, or discomfort in the testicles. Other symptoms of testicular cancer include a feeling of heaviness within your scrotum, any unusual feeling or change in size to your testicle, and a dull ache in the groin, back, or abdomen. Remember to contact your doctor right away if you notice any of these things.
Signs Indicating Something Else
You can get some peace of mind by knowing which symptoms are not typically related to testicular cancer. But you still need to see your doctor to have the right diagnosis. Symptoms that may indicate something else include:
- Blood in your semen or urine
- Burning or pain during urination
- A lump on the tubes from the testicles or the epididymis that seems similar to a third testicle
- A free-floating lump within the scrotum that doesn't seem to be connected to anything
- A rash, ingrown hair, or pimple on your scrotal skin
Other Methods to Diagnose Testicular Cancer
How to check for testicular cancer medically? Your doctor may use the following methods.
1. Physical Examination
A physical examination begins with asking about your medical history and symptoms. The examination itself may involve holding a small light against a lump you have found in your testicle. This is to see if light passes through as cancerous lumps are solid and typically don't allow light to pass.
2. Scrotal Ultrasound
Scrotal ultrasounds are painless procedures that create an image of the interior of your testicle using high-frequency sound waves. This is an important method your doctor will use to tell if a testicular lump is cancerous or not. The ultrasound also helps your doctor determine the size and position of the abnormality. The ultrasound can indicate if the lump is fluid-filled or solid. Lumps containing fluid are typically harmless and known as cysts. Solid lumps may indicate cancer.
3. Blood Tests
Your doctor may order blood tests to check for markers, or hormones, within your blood. Testicular cancer frequently produces certain markers, meaning that their presence can indicate the condition. Your doctor will test for LDH (lactate dehydrogenate), HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin), and AFP (alpha feta protein). Remember that not all types of testicular cancer will lead to these markers, so a clean blood test doesn't rule out testicular cancer.
The only method that gives a definitive yes or no answer is biopsy. How to check for testicular cancer by biopsy? Your doctor will take a biopsy of your tumor or lump so it can be examined within a laboratory to see if it is cancerous. In most cases, a conventional biopsy is not an option as the risk associated with cancer spreading is too high. This means that your doctor may recommend completely removing your affected testicle, a process known as an orchiectomy. They will only do this in cases where they are fairly certain the lump is cancerous since losing a testicle may affect fertility and your sex life.
5. Other Tests
In some cases, your doctor may feel that you need additional tests, particularly to see if cancer has spread. Spreading testicular cancer most commonly impacts the lungs and lymph nodes. To check for spreading, your doctor may order a CT (computerized tomography) scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan or a chest X-ray.
What If You Are Diagnosed with Testicular Cancer?
If you receive a positive result in the test, your doctor will suggest a personalized treatment based on your preferences, overall health condition, the stage and type of cancer.
There are two main types of surgery to treatment cancer. A radical inguinal orchiectomy, or surgery that removes your testicle, is the most common treatment for nearly all types and stages of testicular cancer. The surgeon creates an incision in the groin then extracts the whole testicle via the opening.
In some cases, you will also need retroperitoneal lymph node dissection which is surgery to remove the lymph nodes that are nearby. This is done via an abdominal incision and there is a risk of damage to nerves by the lymph nodes. Damage won't affect the ability to have erections, but it can affect ejaculation. Sometimes, surgery is the only treatment necessary for early-stage cancer.
2. Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy relies on high-powered energy beams that kill cancer cells. You sit on a table and then a large machine aims energy beams at specific areas of your body. It may be suggested following an orchiectomy or for those with the type of testicular cancer known as seminoma. Side effects of radiation include infertility, fatigue, irritation and skin redness by the groin and abdomen.
Chemotherapy relies on drugs to kill the testicular cancer cells. It can be used as the sole treatment or with removal of the lymph nodes. The side effects vary based on the drug, but may include a higher risk of infection, hair loss, nausea, and fatigue along with infertility.