A testicular exam is an inspection of the appearance and feel of your testicles. You can do a testicular exam yourself, typically standing in front of a mirror.

Routine testicular exams may give you a greater awareness of the condition of your testicles and help you detect when changes occur. Testicular exams may also help you identify potential testicular problems.

If you detect lumps or other changes during a testicular exam, make an appointment with your doctor.

Testicular self-exams help you learn the normal feel and appearance of your testicles. That may make it more likely that you'll notice subtle changes, should they occur. Changes in your testicles could be a sign of a common benign condition, such as an infection or a cyst, or a less common condition, such as testicular cancer.

Who should consider regular testicular exams?

It's not clear which men should consider regular testicular exams. Though often promoted as a way to detect testicular cancer, testicular exams aren't proven to reduce the risk of dying of the disease. Testicular cancer is a relatively uncommon type of cancer. It's also highly treatable at all stages, so finding testicular cancer early doesn't make a cure more likely.

Doctors and medical organizations differ on their recommendations for testicular exams. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn't recommend testicular exams because a benefit has never been proven. The American Cancer Society recommends discussing cancer-related health issues, such as testicular self-exams, with your doctor during routine checkups. If you're concerned about your risk of testicular cancer, discuss the issue with your doctor. Together you can decide whether regular testicular self-exams are right for you.

Performing a testicular exam doesn't pose any direct risks. However, if you notice something unusual that concerns you, the follow-up exams might lead to unnecessary worry and medical tests.

For example, if you discover a suspicious lump, you may undergo tests to determine its cause. This could involve blood tests, ultrasound exams or a procedure to remove testicle tissue for examination (biopsy). If the lump turns out to be noncancerous (benign), you might feel that you've undergone an invasive procedure unnecessarily.

No special preparation is necessary to do a testicular exam. You may find a testicular exam is easier during or after a warm bath or shower. Heat relaxes the scrotum, making it easier for you to check for anything unusual.

To do a testicular exam, stand unclothed in front of a mirror. Then:

  • Look for swelling. Hold your penis out of the way and examine the skin of the scrotum.
  • Examine each testicle. Using both hands, place your index and middle fingers under the testicle and your thumbs on top.
  • Gently roll the testicle between your thumbs and fingers. Look and feel for any changes to your testicle. These could include hard lumps, smooth rounded bumps, or new changes in the size, shape or consistency of the testicle.

While you're doing the testicular exam, you may notice a few things about your testicles that seem unusual — but aren't signs of cancer. For example, bumps on the skin of your scrotum can be caused by ingrown hairs, a rash or other skin problems. You may also feel a soft, ropy cord, which is a normal part of the scrotum called the epididymis. It leads upward from the top of the back part of each testicle.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you find a lump or other change during a testicular self-exam. Depending on the circumstances, your doctor may do a testicular exam followed by a blood test, ultrasound or biopsy.

Most changes in your testicles aren't caused by testicular cancer. A number of noncancerous conditions can cause changes in your testicles, such as a cyst, injury, infection, hernia and collection of fluid around the testicles (hydrocele).

Dec. 02, 2011