Testicular Cancer Detection & Diagnosis

In most cases, the first sign of testicular cancer is a lump in the testicle. While some men discover the lump on their own, others learn about it during a physical exam at their doctor’s office or from an intimate partner. Like other cancers, a big part of successful treatment is detecting testicular cancer early.

Performing Self-Exams for Testicular Cancer Detection

It is recommended that men perform self-exams for testicular cancer once a month. These exams are simple and should take no more than a few minutes. The best time to do this is during or after a warm shower or bath when the scrotum is relaxed. Here are the steps for a testicular exam:

  1. Check for swelling on the scrotal skin, preferably in front of a mirror.
  2. Examine each testicle with both hands. Hold the testicle between your thumbs and middle fingers, rolling it gently but firmly between your fingers. Take note of any irregularities in surface and texture.

When performing your exam, keep in mind that each normal testicle has a soft, rope-like structure called the epididymis that can feel like a small bump on the upper or middle outer side of the testis. Locating this structure will prevent you from mistaking it for an abnormality.

Physician Exams for Detecting Testicular Cancer

In addition to performing self-exams, your doctor is able to perform several tests to detect the presence of testicular cancer. These are typically done if a man notices symptoms or finds a lump or has pain in his testicle(s). They can also be done if the doctor finds anything unusual in the testicles. These tests may include:

  • A physical examination where your doctor will feel around your testicles and scrotum, and abdomen. A history of your health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • An ultrasound of your testicles, which provides a more detailed picture, allowing your doctor to better detect any obvious lumps or tumors. An ultrasound of the testicle(s) is performed by placing a wand against your scrotum and abdomen to look for visual abnormalities.
  • A serum tumor marker test, which is a blood test that looks for tumor markers

Testicular Cancer Diagnosis

Typically, a doctor will be able to get a sense for whether a patient has testicular cancer through their blood tests and ultrasounds. It is unlikely that a biopsy (testing a small piece of the tumor for cancerous cells) will be performed at that time as it could spread any cancerous cells that are present.

For most men, a testicular cancer diagnosis will require surgically removing the testicle. It is at this time that the testicle will be biopsied. However, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely the cancer will be found based on the other information gathered before surgery. Your doctor may also recommend running some additional tests to see if the cancer has spread outside of the testicle. The type of testicular cancer you have will also be determined in the biopsy.