You may not give cancer much thought, unless someone you know has it. Even then, it's often someone who's older. You may think you're too young to worry about it.
But there is something you can do to protect yourself. It's called a testicle self-exam.
What Is Testicular Cancer?
The testicles are the part of your body that produce sperm. They also produce a male hormone called testosterone that gives your body many of its male characteristics -- like a deep voice or hair on the face.
With testicular cancer, abnormal cells in the testicles divide uncontrollably and form a cancerous tumor. If the cancer isn't treated, those cells can break off and spread to other parts of the body.
Testicular cancer is not particularly common. There are about 8,300 new cases a year. And about 350 men die each year from this cancer. But while some men are more likely to get it than others, it's possible for any young man to get the disease.
Why You Should Consider Giving Yourself a Self-Exam Each Month
Unless you have certain risk factors, such as a brother or father who has or had testicular cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says there aren't enough studies to make monthly exams a recommendation.
But because the cancer is so easy to treat when found early, even the ACS says many doctors recommend the exam. And besides finding cancer early, the exam can help you find other problems that may need to be treated.
Doing the Monthly Exam
Doctors recommend that boys start doing monthly exams around age 14. At this age, it's unlikely you will find anything to be concerned about. However, a self-exam will give you the chance to get to know your body so that you can detect changes more easily in the future.
The best time to do an exam is right after a shower or bath. That's when the skin of the scrotum will be most relaxed and the exam will be easier to do.
You should do the exam standing in front of a mirror. If you are nervous about touching yourself, don't be. This is how you get to know what your testicles and scrotum should feel like.
- Start by standing in front of the mirror and check for any swelling in the scrotum. Cup the scrotum in one hand to see if it feels normal.
- Hold your penis out of the way and examine one testicle at a time.
- Roll the testicle gently between the fingers and thumb. You should not feel any pain.
- The testicle may be about the size of a golf ball, and it should feel smooth.
- Feel for any bumps or changes in size or consistency.
- After checking one testicle, check the other the same way. One testicle may be slightly larger or smaller; this is normal.
- Lumps should be checked by a doctor.
When You Should Call a Doctor
If you discover any lumps on your testicles when you do a self-exam, see a doctor right away. Also see a doctor if you notice any of the following changes:
- One testicle has gotten noticeably larger or smaller.
- You have a dull ache in the lower abdomen or groin.
- You have a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum.
- You feel pain or discomfort in the scrotum or a testicle.
- You notice an enlargement or tenderness in your breasts.
Any of these could be a warning sign of cancer or something else, such as an infection. Only your doctor can diagnose what the problem is and decide on the proper treatment.
But only you can do the monthly exam and notice changes that should be examined. Remember, the earlier a problem is found, whether it's cancer or something else, the more options there are for treating it, and the easier it will be to treat.