How to perform a testicular self-examination

Just as it’s recommended that women check their breasts on a monthly basis, men should also be performing a self-examination of their testicles (balls) on a regular basis.

Testicular tumours mainly affect men aged 20-40 and are very rare over the age of 50 but, ideally, checks should be performed from puberty onwards. If you’ve never ‘checked your chaps’, it’s not too late to start.

Doing this five-minute testicle check on a regular basis can help you become familiar with your body and recognise any changes sooner.

Check your testicles in these three simple steps

To perform the exam, stand nude in front of a mirror after a warm bath or shower.

  1. Check for swelling: hold the penis out of the way and look at the skin of the scrotum. You may see bumps which seem unusual, but these are not necessarily a sign of cancer. Bumps can be caused by ingrown hairs, rashes or other skin-related problems
  2. Roll each testicle: using your thumb and forefingers, gently roll each testicle in turn, looking and feeling for any changes. These include lumps, bumps or changes in shape or size
  3. Check again: make sure you ‘check your chaps’ on a regular basis. Add a monthly reminder in your diary, phone or calendar to give you a nudge

At the back of your testicles you may also feel a softer, bumpier tissue which feels different to the testicle it’s attached to. These tubes are called the epididymis and are a normal part of the male reproductive system. They can easily be mistaken for an unusual mass if you’re unfamiliar with them.

If you do find anything unusual, seek medical advice promptly but do bear in mind that most changes in the testicles are caused by injury, infection, cysts, hernias or other non-cancerous conditions.

What should my testicles feel and look like? 

The vast majority of men’s testicles are about the same size, though it's common for one to be a bit larger than the other, as well as one hanging lower than the other.

Your testicles should feel fairly smooth, without noticeable lumps or bumps. They should be relatively firm but not hard. Around the back of your testicles, you can feel a soft tube which is called the epididymis.

The best place to notice any changes to your testicles is during a hot shower, as the heat causes the testicles to hang lower, making them easier to examine. 

What causes swelling or lumps in the testicles?

There are a few different causes of testicular swelling or lumps;

  • Epididymal cyst – lump(s) caused by a collection of fluid in the epididymis
  • Varicocele – enlarged veins in the testicles.
  • Testicular torsion – a sudden and painful swelling that occurs when a testicle is twisted, requiring medical attention as soon as possible
  • Hydrocele – swelling caused by fluid
  • Epididymitis – Chlamydia infection located in the epididymis which can cause inflammation. This often leads to swelling, tenderness and redness on the scrotum (ball sack)
  • Testicular cancer – an estimated 4 in 100 testicular lumps are cancer, so this is an uncommon cause of lumps. However, it is the most severe and - should you identify a lump on your testicle - you should contact your GP

What are the different signs of testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer is luckily easy to identify, its important that you get checked out by a doctor if you notice any of these changes, so look out for one or more of the following signs:

  • Swelling or unusual enlargement, or a change in shape of a testicle
  • A hard lump on the front or side
  • An unusual and noticeable difference between one testicle and the other
  • Increased firmness of the testicle

Testicular cancer is far easier to treat in the early stages, so it’s essential to check them on a regular basis to ensure that no changes go unnoticed.

If you notice any unusual changes in the way your testicles look or feel, you should contact your GP.

We offer treatment for conditions related to your testicles in a comfortable and reassuring environment. Find out more about our urology treatments by completing our online enquiry form or by contacting our Private Patient Team on 01580 363158.

Published on 23 October 2020