While most men won’t get testicular cancer, it’s the most common cancer among young men ages 15-35. It’s also highly curable, especially when it’s caught early.
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That’s why it’s so important that boys and teens learn how to perform testicular self-exams (TSE) and do them regularly.
“In pre-pubertal boys, any unusual tumors or growths we find are usually benign, but they still need to be screened,” says pediatric urologist Audrey Rhee, MD.“Once a boy hits puberty, we have greater concerns about malignancies, up through a man’s early thirties.”
Dr. Rhee advises that boys and teens check for changes in their testicles on a monthly basis, at least. If you have a family history of testicular cancer, or if your son had an undescended testicle as a child, he should check more often.
Important tips on testicular self-exams
- It’s best to check when standing in a hot shower, while the testicles are descended.
- Hold one testicle in place, and use the other hand to roll the other testicle back and forth. The testicle should feel firm or slightly squishy, with no hard masses. Repeat on the other side.
- If you notice something that feels like a pebble inside the testicle, make an appointment with a doctor.
“You can feel other structures in the scrotum, so boys shouldn’t panic if they feel something,” cautions Dr. Rhee. “But if they notice a change over time, they need to say something to a parent.”
Lumps and swelling should prompt a call to the doc
How to bring up the topic of testicular health
Dr. Rhee suggests using popular culture as a jumping-off point for discussion.
“Use Lance Armstrong,” she says. “Say, ‘That guy had cancer, and it’s something you can detect with a self-exam.’” Several Olympic athletes have battled testicular cancer, including swimmer Eric Shanteau, skater Scott Hamilton, and Jake Gibb, a member of the U.S. beach volleyball team.
Actor-comedian Tom Green also was treated for testicular cancer, and MTV aired a documentary about his diagnosis and surgery.
“Be open about your own cancer screenings,” says Dr. Rhee. “Talk to your kids about when you go for a colonoscopy or mammogram, and relate these checks to testicular self-exams so they understand cancer screenings are just part of what people have to do for their health.”
Reach out to your pediatrician
Ask your child’s pediatrician to stress the importance of TSEs during well checks, and to make sure your child knows how to perform a TSE properly. Your pediatrician might have an instruction card that can be hung in the shower.
“It’s important that parents give their son’s information about how to perform a testicular self-exam and what to look for,” says Dr. Rhee.
“After that, all we can do is encourage them to check themselves regularly and make ourselves available to them so they can come to us with any concerns.”