In part 1 of this post, I introduced the L (lethal) A (all men) N (numbers) C (curable) E (early self-detection) of testicular cancer, inspired by the cancer survival story of cyclist Lance Armstrong. Now, I want to elaborate further on the topic of early detection.
All males between the ages of 15-35 years are encouraged to do testicular self-examination at least once a month, ideally while taking a warm shower so that the scrotal skin is relaxed. The exam is easy: feel around the testicles for a firm lump the size of a pea or marble that wasn’t there before. If you find one, you should visit your health care provider as soon as possible; a testicular tumor can double in size every 10-30 days and the longer it goes untreated, the greater the potential for metastasis.
Most testicular tumors are painless, at least initially, but sometimes there is tenderness or a sensation of heaviness in the testicle. Sometimes there is just some vague change in the texture or size of the testicle. Other benign conditions – such as varicocele, hydrocele, epididymal cyst, seminoma, or epididymitis – may also cause many of these findings, but diagnosing should be left to the healthcare provider. When the physical exam is concerning or unclear, the next step is usually ultrasound imaging of the scrotum, which is a fast and painless procedure.
Another benefit of periodic testicular self-examination is that the man is more likely to note other problems with his penis or scrotum, such as genital warts, which might then be treated prior to transmission to another person.
Millions of people are now wearing yellow bracelets from the Lance Armstrong Foundation to recognize those who have been affected by cancer. We encourage you to let L.A.N.C.E. remind you of the 5 key facts about testicular cancer, and let each sighting of a yellow bracelet remind you to take charge of your own health and routinely check your testicles (or those of the man you care for).
James R. Jacobs, M.D., Ph.D., FACEP
Director, The Ohio State University Student Health Services