Testicular cancer originates in the testicles, a pair of small male reproductive organs held in a loose pouch of skin (scrotum) that hangs underneath the penis. The testicles produce male hormones, such as testosterone, and sperm.
Although testicular cancer is relatively uncommon, it is still the most frequently diagnosed malignancy in American males between the ages of 15 and 35. However, when a tumor is caught early, it can often be effectively treated and even cured. For these reasons, it is important for all boys and men to learn to identify the warning signs of testicular cancer.
What does testicular cancer look like?
Most testicular tumors can be found in their early stages before the cancer has spread, when more treatment options are generally available. In some men, early-stage testicular cancer causes noticeable symptoms that lead them to seek medical attention. For instance, the first sign is often a small, painless lump (similar to a marble) in a testicle. Other signs to watch for include:
- Swelling or enlargement of one or both testicles
- Pain or numbness in a testicle or the scrotum
- A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
- A dull ache or pressure in the groin, pelvis or low back
- A general feeling of malaise, which may include unexplained fatigue, fever, sweating, coughing, shortness of breath and/or mild chest pain
- Headache and mental confusion
In boys, testicular cancer can also cause early signs of puberty, such as the growth of facial and body hair and accelerated voice deepening.
Most experts agree that a testicular examination should be performed during a general physical exam or routine check-up. What’s more, many physicians recommend that all men examine their testicles at least monthly after puberty. This can make it easier to notice any changes soon after they occur.
How to perform a testicular self-exam
The best time for a man to examine his testicles is during or immediately after a warm shower or bath, when the scrotal skin is usually relaxed. Here’s how:
- Move the penis to the side and examine each testicle separately.
- Position the index and middle fingers underneath one testicle and the thumbs on top.
- Gently but firmly roll the testicle between the fingers and thumbs to feel for any hard lumps or nodules (smooth rounded masses) or any change in its size, shape or consistency.
If you have questions about testicular cancer or would like personalized advice, you are welcome to consult with a specialist in the Urologic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. To request an appointment call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We provide every new patient with rapid access to a cancer expert within one day, which is faster than any other cancer hospital in the nation.
Find answers to a few of the most frequently asked questions patients and caregivers have about testicular cancer in our Testicular Cancer FAQs.