Scrotal masses are abnormalities in the bag of skin hanging behind the penis (scrotum). The scrotum contains the testicles and related structures that produce, store and transport sperm and male sex hormones.
Scrotal masses might be an accumulation of fluids, the growth of abnormal tissue, or normal contents of the scrotum that have become swollen, inflamed or hardened.
Scrotal masses need to be examined by a doctor, even if you're not in pain or having other symptoms. Scrotal masses could be cancerous or caused by another condition that affects testicular function and health.
Self-examination and regular doctor exams of the scrotum are important for prompt recognition, diagnosis and treatment of scrotal masses.
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Male reproductive system
The male reproductive system makes, stores and moves sperm. Testicles produce sperm. Fluid from the seminal vesicles and prostate gland combine with sperm to make semen. The penis ejaculates semen during sexual intercourse.
Signs and symptoms of scrotal masses vary depending on the abnormality. Signs and symptoms might include:
An unusual lump
A dull aching pain or feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
Pain that radiates throughout the groin, abdomen or lower back
Tender, swollen or hardened testicle
Tender, swollen or hardened epididymis (ep-ih-DID-uh-miss), the soft, comma-shaped tube above and behind the testicle that stores and transports sperm
Swelling in the scrotum
Redness of the skin of the scrotum
Nausea or vomiting
If the cause of a scrotal mass is an infection, signs and symptoms also might include:
Pus or blood in the urine
When to see a doctor
Seek emergency medical care if you develop sudden pain in your scrotum. Some conditions require prompt treatment to avoid permanent damage to a testicle.
See your doctor if you detect a lump in your scrotum, even if it's not painful or tender, or if you experience other symptoms of a scrotal mass.
Some scrotal masses are more common in children. See your doctor if your child experiences symptoms of a scrotal mass, if you have any concerns about the development of the genitals or if a testicle is “missing” — an undescended or retractile testicle, which might increase the risk of some scrotal masses later in life.
A spermatocele, also known as a spermatic cyst, is a typically painless, noncancerous (benign), fluid-filled sac that grows near the top of a testicle.
Hydrocele is the type of scrotal swelling that occurs when fluid collects in the thin sheath that surrounds the testicle.
A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins that transport oxygen-depleted blood away from the testicle.
Inguinal hernias occur when part of the membrane lining the abdominal cavity (omentum) or intestine protrudes through a weak spot in the abdomen — often along the inguinal canal, which carries the spermatic cord in men.
A number of disorders can result in a scrotal mass or an abnormality in the scrotum, including:
Testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is a tumor containing abnormal testicular tissue, which can usually be felt as a nontender lump in the scrotum.
Some men experience pain and swelling, but most tumors don't cause symptoms. See your doctor if you notice any new lump in your scrotum.
- Spermatocele. Also known as a spermatic cyst or epididymal cyst, spermatocele is a typically painless, noncancerous (benign), fluid-filled sac in the scrotum, usually above the testicle.
Epididymitis. This is inflammation of the epididymis, the comma-shaped structure above and behind the testicle that stores and transports sperm.
Epididymitis is often caused by a bacterial infection, including sexually transmitted bacterial infections, such as chlamydia. Less commonly, epididymitis is caused by a viral infection or an abnormal flow of urine into the epididymis.
- Orchitis. This is inflammation of the testicle usually due to a viral infection — most commonly mumps. When orchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, the epididymis also might be infected.
Hydrocele. Hydrocele occurs when there is excess fluid between the layers of a sac that surrounds each testicle. A small amount of fluid in this space is normal, but the excess fluid of a hydrocele usually results in a painless swelling of the scrotum.
In infants, a hydrocele occurs usually because an opening between the abdomen and the scrotum hasn't properly sealed during development.
In adults, a hydrocele occurs usually because of an imbalance in the production or absorption of fluid, often as a result of injury or infection in the scrotum.
- Hematocele. Hematocele occurs where there is blood between the layers of a sac that surrounds each testicle. Traumatic injury, such as a direct blow to the testicles, is the most likely cause.
Varicocele. This is the enlargement of the veins within the scrotum that carry oxygen-depleted blood from each testicle and the epididymis. Varicocele is more common on the left side of the scrotum because of differences in how blood circulates from each side.
A varicocele might cause infertility.
Inguinal hernia. This is a condition in which a portion of the small intestine pushes through an opening or weak spot in the tissue separating the abdomen and groin.
In infants, an inguinal hernia usually occurs because the passageway from the abdomen to the scrotum has failed to close during development.
An inguinal hernia might appear as a mass in the scrotum or higher in the groin.
Testicular torsion. This is a twisting of the spermatic cord, the bundle of blood vessels, nerves and the tube that carries semen from the testicle to the penis.
This painful condition cuts off blood to the testicle and can result in the loss of the testicle if not promptly treated. The affected testicle might be sideways, enlarged and higher than normal.
Factors that increase the risk of a scrotal mass vary because of the various causes of scrotal abnormalities. Significant risk factors include:
Undescended or retractile testicle
An undescended testicle doesn't leave the abdomen and enter the scrotum during fetal development or early infancy. A retractile testicle descends into the scrotum, but retreats to the abdomen. Either might increase the risk of:
- Inguinal hernia
- Testicular torsion
- Testicular cancer
Abnormalities present at birth
Abnormalities of the testicles, penis or kidneys present at birth (congenital) might increase the risk of a scrotal mass and testicular cancer later in life.
History of testicular cancer
If you have had cancer in one testicle, you're at increased risk of cancer affecting the other testicle. Having a father or brother who has had testicular cancer also increases your risk.
Not all scrotal masses result in long-term complications. However, any mass that affects the health or function of the testicle can lead to:
- Delayed or poor development during puberty