What Easy Self-Exam Can Save a Young Man’s Life?

Earlier detection leads to better outcomes for this cancer

What Easy Self-Exam Can Save a Young Man’s Life?

Young men lead busy lives. But making time for a simple exam once a month can be life-saving.

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Self-exams for testicular cancer should begin at age 15 and continue through age 35. Although testicular cancer is fairly rare — affecting about one in 263 U.S. men — it is the most common cancer among males in that age group.

The odds are against your finding a problem. But self-exams are worth your time. Testicular cancer is highly curable, and the cure rate increases with early detection.

Early discovery, higher cure rates

Some forms of testicular cancer are slow-progressing, making them easier to cure than many other cancers. However, other forms of testicular cancers grow faster.

And testicular cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for testicular cancer contained to a testicle is 99 percent. Even when it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues, the survival rate is 96 percent.

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If cancer spreads beyond the area near the testes, however, that five-year survival rate drops to 73 percent.

The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a lump in the testicle. If you find a lump, see your doctor and have an ultrasound to confirm whether or not you have testicular cancer.

How does a self-exam work?

Here’s what you should know about testicular self-exams:

  • Perform them in the shower, when the skin on the testes relaxes.
  • Gently roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers.
  • Feel for hard or smooth, round lumps.
  • Watch for any change in the size or shape of the testicles over time.

Remember that it’s normal to have testicles that are not exactly the same size. It’s also important to know that the epididymis (a small, coiled tube in the testicle) may cause a bump on the outside of the testicle.

If you do regular self-exams, you will become aware of what is normal for your body. Then you’ll be more likely to notice if something changes or seems out of the ordinary.

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What you should know about treatment

If you find a testicular lump, see your doctor right away. He or she will do an ultrasound and possibly blood tests to determine whether or not it is cancer and, if so, the stage of the tumor.

The affected testicle is almost always removed. Chemotherapy is likely after surgery. Your doctor also may order a CT scan of the chest and abdomen to make sure the cancer hasn’t metastasized.

The good news is that losing a testicle won’t affect your fertility or testosterone levels. You can also get a prosthetic testicle as a replacement, if you choose to do so.

The key is that monthly self-exams can help you catch a problem early. Then you can deal with it before it spreads and is harder to control.

The few minutes it takes for the self-exam each month is a small price to pay for an early diagnosis.

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Eric A. Klein, MD

Eric A. Klein, MD, is an international leader in the biology and management of prostate cancer. Dr. Klein serves as Chairman of the Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute.
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