How to Talk to Your Teen About Testicular Cancer

He should know how to do a self-examination by age 15

Testicular cancer generally appears out of the blue in healthy young men aged 15 to 35. Although learning your son has cancer is profoundly frightening, there’s reason to be optimistic with this diagnosis: When testicular cancer is discovered early, it is nearly 100 percent curable.

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“Testicular cancer doesn’t require testing to be discovered, since it can be felt as a lump,” says pediatric urologist Jeffrey Donohoe, MD. “This is why you need to teach your son how to perform a testicular self-examination when he reaches puberty and encourage him to do it monthly until he is out of danger at age 45.”

Who is at risk?

Any young man can develop testicular cancer, but there are two groups with increased risk.

Boys born with an undescended testicle have the strongest risk.

“Their risk is four to eight times that of the general population, whether the testicle drops by itself or is surgically descended in the first year of life,” Dr. Donohoe says. “It can even occur in the testicle that descended normally.”

Results of a recent study suggest that bringing down the testicle early in life may decrease the risk of testicular cancer. While this finding is encouraging, the results need to be verified by additional studies, Dr. Donohoe says.

The second group at increased risk includes young men with a family history of testicular cancer.

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“The genetic link is not as strong as with breast, colon or prostate cancer, but nevertheless, if there’s any history of testicular cancer in a direct relative, your son may be at higher-than-average risk himself,” Dr. Donohoe says.

What to say

Start by explaining to your son the importance of early detection and how it can help him to be cured. Point out the fact that you don’t have to undergo medical tests to find testicular cancer.

Cancer is usually painless, so instruct your son to check his testicles for any change every month.

“It could be a lump, bump or swelling that wasn’t there before,” Dr. Donohoe says.

To notice these changes, you have to know how your testicles feel normally.

“They may be slightly different shapes, and one—usually the right one—may be slightly larger than the other,” Dr. Donohoe says.

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The right way to check

Here is how to do a testicle self-exam:

  • Stand in a hot shower, so the testicles will drop.
  • Soap your fingers.
  • Hold the top of one testicle between the thumb and forefinger of one hand and the bottom with the other hand.
  • Press down gently while sliding your thumb and forefinger downward until your hands meet. “It should feel uncomfortable, but not painful,” Dr. Donohoe says.
  • Roll the testicle between your fingers to sense any lumps or bumps.
  • Repeat with the other testicle.

Tell your son that to let you know right away if he feels something irregular. Then make an appointment for him to see his pediatrician or family physician.

“Reassure him he should not feel embarrassed, and he should never wait to see if it goes away,” Dr. Donohoe says. “Instead, tell him you are proud of him for taking responsibility for his health.”

You should be proud of yourself, too.

“Teaching your son how to protect himself lets him know you care about his health and he should, too,” Dr. Donohoe says.

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