Let’s talk about your testicles today. I know this may be a strange and unexpected topic, but it could potentially save your life! Testicular cancer is one of the most common male-related cancers in men between ages 15-39, although it could also occur at an older age. The signs and symptoms of this disease may be very mild and somehow vague, and most affected men won’t even notice it for a long time. If it is detected early enough, testicular cancer is curable 90%-100% of times.
Let`s begin with some basics. A healthy testicle looks like a big grape, with a length of 3.5- 5.5 cm, and has a smooth wall all around without any lumps. Testicles are placed in a layer of skin, called the scrotum and behind each testicle, there is a firm and wire-like cord, called spermatic cord. The partial function of this cord, as the name mentions, is to move the sperm out of the testicles. Other than this cord at the back of the testicles, the rest of its surface must be smooth. The biggest sign of testicular cancer is the presence of a lump on its wall. The warning lumps are often painless and may be as small as few millimeters or as large as few centimeters. Other warning signs include swelling, pain, a sense of heaviness in the scrotum, or even enlargement of lymph nodes in the groin or abdominal region.
The good news is that testicular cancer is one of the few cancers that can be detected from the surface of the body and if detected early enough, the cure rate is very high. Now that we know what signs to look for, let’s learn how to do a self-monthly check up, following these four easy steps:
The best time to do a self-examination is right after a warm shower or in a warm environment. The heat helps to relax the local muscles and makes the examination easier.
- LOOK: Standing in front of a mirror, observe your testicles, looking for any sign of swelling, lumps or asymmetry. Left testicle is often sited slightly lower than the right testicle, and it may be even slightly larger. This is normal, but any swelling, lump or significant difference between the two sides needs immediate medical attention.
- COMPARE: Hold each testicle with one hand and compare their weight and shape. In most men, one testicle is naturally slightly heavier than other. Look for any significant size or weight discrepancy between the two sides.
- FEEL: In this step, examine each side separately. Hold each testicle with both hands, placing the index and middle fingers below and your thumb above the organ. Rolling your fingers, feel for any discrete lumps or bumps, or painful areas on your testicle. As mentioned before, beside the wire-like cord at the back of the testicle (called spermatic cord), any other lump is abnormal and may be a warning sign. Remember, a painless lump does not necessary mean a harmless lump!
- REPEAT: Once you are familiar with the shape and weight of your testicles, watch for any unexpected changes. Repeat the self-examination monthly and if there is any change, contact your doctor immediately.
Also, if you are a frequent, long-term marijuana smoker, you may want to reconsider it since studies have found an association between chronic overuse of cannabis and the incidence of testicular cancer.1,2 Men who smoke cannabis on a weekly basis or with more frequency have double the odds of testicular cancer compared to those who never use marijuana. 1,2
Take charge of your health. Your health is your decision!
Rasa Nikanjam, BSc. ND
- Gurney et al.: Cannabis exposure and risk of testicular cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cancer 2015 15.
- Huang YHJ et al.: An epidemiologic review of marijuana and cancer: an update. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015 January;24(1):15–31.