There’s no standard medical screening test for testicular cancer. But regular self-exams can help you catch it in an early stage, increasing your likelihood of a positive outcome.

Testicular cancer is an uncommon type of cancer that accounts for just under 10,000 new cases in the United States each year. Unlike most cancers that are more common in older adults, testicular cancer tends to develop at a younger age. People between the ages of 20 and 34 are at highest risk.

Testicular cancer is usually curable when caught at an early stage when it can still be treated effectively.

This article reviews testicular cancer self-screening recommendations — what you can do at home to regularly check for changes that might indicate cancer.

Fast facts about testicular cancer

  • Testicular cancer affects about 1 in 250 people assigned male at birth.
  • Testicular cancer is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 34.
  • About 470 people in the United States die from testicular cancer annually.
  • In 2019, there were an estimated 283,792 people living with testicular cancer in the United States
  • Two of the main risk factors for testicular cancer are an undescended testicle and a family history of testicular cancer.
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While a colonoscopy, for example, is the standard screening test for colorectal cancer, there’s no comparable routine screening test for testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is usually found after a self-exam discovers a suspicious lump or a lump is discovered as part of a routine physical exam.

Performing a testicular self-exam is easy and should be done monthly unless otherwise directed by your doctor. For best results, perform the exam in a hot or warm shower when your scrotum is relaxed.

Start by moving your penis out of the way. Hold one testicle between your thumb and fingers and gently roll it around, feeling for any lumps or nodules. Do the same with the other testicle. Keep in mind that it’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger than the other and for one to hang slightly lower than the other.

If you feel anything suspicious, make an appointment with a doctor soon. A lump may be the only symptom you notice at first, as pain and other symptoms often don’t appear until the later stages of testicular cancer.

If other symptoms are present, they may include aching or heaviness in the scrotum, lower abdomen, or both. If lower back pain or severe abdominal pain develop, it could be a sign the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

If you see a doctor about a suspicious lump or nodule within your scrotum, your doctor will perform a physical examination of your testicles, checking for lumps, swelling, and tenderness. Your doctor will also check your abdomen, armpits, and other parts of the body for signs of swollen lymph nodes.

If your doctor suspects you might have testicular cancer, they’ll perform additional testing. One of the first tests they may do is a testicular ultrasound.

This noninvasive test uses sound waves to create pictures of inside the testicles. An ultrasound can often rule out benign (noncancerous) conditions that may be causing symptoms, like varicocele or hydrocele.

If the ultrasound detects a hard lump, your doctor may order additional tests to confirm a diagnosis or may recommend surgery to remove the lump, as it’s likely to be a cancerous tumor.

Your doctor may also order blood tests to check for markers of testicular cancer, including alpha-fetoprotein and human chorionic gonadotropin. High levels of these markers in the blood often indicate testicular cancer.

The importance of early diagnosis

Detecting testicular cancer early gives you and your doctor more treatment options and a greater likelihood of a healthy, positive outcome.

Even though there haven’t been extensive studies to show that regular self-exams save lives, many health experts still agree that a monthly self-exam is a simple way to look out for your own health.

If you have risk factors for testicular cancer, like family history, it’s especially important to talk with a doctor about how often you should perform self-exams or receive medical evaluations.

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While the American Cancer Society and other health organizations have no set guidelines for testicular cancer screening, you can always take it upon yourself to start the process with a self-exam at home.

If you notice a lump, swelling, or any other suspicious sign, see a doctor soon for a more comprehensive medical evaluation. Tests to diagnose testicular cancer are reliable and can usually lead to early and effective treatment.