Men who notice a lump, heaviness, or pain in the testicle are often not convinced to see a doctor until a partner insists, but men should take note of changes in the testicles, says Clair Beard, MD, director of the Testicular Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.
“Unlike with breast cancer, where many women feel lumps that turn out not to be cancer, most men don’t feel a lump, they just notice the testicle is different somehow,” says Beard, who adds that men who do find lumps may notice that they stick out or feel like a marble within the testicle, but are rarely painful. “Any man who feels a mass, heaviness of a testicle, or difference in size between the two testicles, if they used to be the same size, should see his primary care physician or a urologist to have a testicular ultrasound.”
It’s important for men to take note of these changes so they can tell their doctor, many of whom don’t check the testicles or may not know what they’re looking for, says Beard. If men report that they have noticed changes, doctors will order an ultrasound to test for testicular cancer, which is highly curable when found early.
While a small number of men with testicular cancer may have pain in the testicle, it is not a reliable indicator of the disease, according to Beard. Pain and changes may also be caused by cysts in the epididymis, a tube that runs next to the testicle and tends to be prone to cysts. Discomfort can also be caused by a blockage in tubes that run out of the testicle, called a spermatocele, which can cause swelling. In rare cases, men may also experience painful, but non-cancerous, testicle infections.
“Men should do testicular self-exams every month, looking for differences in size or consistency between the two testicles,” says Beard, who recommends taking 30 seconds to examine the testicles with soapy hands in the shower. Men who have an undescended testicle, or one that is smaller than the other, should pay extra close attention, as those testicles are more prone to developing cancer. All changes, whether a lump or otherwise, should be taken seriously and evaluated by a doctor.