Checking your testicles - what to look out for
Reviewed by our clinical team
Testicular cancer is a fairly uncommon type of cancer – only 2,300 British men are diagnosed with it each year, compared with over 52,000 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. However, it’s still a good idea to get into the habit of checking your testicles – or “balls” – regularly. Testicular cancer is very treatable, and detecting it early means it can usually be cured for good. So don't bury your head in the sand - get checking.
The basic idea behind checking your testicles is to familiarise yourself with how they feel – in other words, their weight and size, how they sit in your hand, and what they feel like. This way you’ll be able to detect any significant changes.
How healthy testicles look and feel
The first thing to understand is what's what and how you can tell your testicles from other structures that are inside your scrotum (ballsack).
The scrotum is the bag of skin that contains the testicles. This should feel soft and baggy, when you are relaxed and warm. When you are cold, the skin can be all wrinkled up and firm. The epididymis and vas deferens are the tubes at the back and top of each testicle which carry sperm out. Th epididymis/ vas deferens can be confused with a lump on the testicle - but if you feel carefully and without panicking, you'll notice that this structure is quite separate from the smooth, firm testicles (balls). The epididymis feels a bit like coiled-up string or a spoonful of cooked spaghetti. You can feel these structures on both sides. Cancer usually only affects one side. So if can feel the same rope-like slightly squishy structure behind each testicle, you don't need to worry.
The testicles themselves are round or slightly egg-shaped and should feel firm, smooth and round. There shouldn’t be any lumps, bumps or areas of hardness.
Most men have one testicle that hangs slightly lower than the other one- this is completely normal.
How to check your testicles for cancer
You can check your testicles at any time when you feel warm, comfortable and relaxed, and you have some privacy. A good time to do it is after having a bath or shower, before you’ve gotten dressed.
To check for cancer, do the following:
- If possible, stay standing while you check yourself
- Cup your hand under your balls and feel their weight
- Take one testicle between your finger and thumb and gently roll it to feel for lumps, swelling or pain
- Take the other testicle and do the same
For a more detailed guide, check out this page on the Baggy Trousers UK website.
If you notice any of the following, you should make an appointment with your GP as soon as possible:
- A change to the weight or size of one testicle
- A bumpy or lumpy testicle that feels different to the other one
- Tender, sore areas within the scrotum
- Pain when you touch your testicles
Most lumps that develop within the scrotum aren’t a sign of testicular cancer but it’s still really important to get them checked. In the rare case that the lump is cancerous, early diagnosis means your treatment is more likely to work.
How often should I check my testicles?
Macmillan Cancer recommends checking your testicles at least once a month for lumps and swellings.
What other conditions can affect the testicles?
Aside from cancer, there are a few other conditions that can affect the testicles, including epididymo-orchitis, testicular torsion and genital warts.
Epididymo-orchitis is where the epididymis and/or testicles become inflamed, usually caused by an infection. This could be due to mumps, a urine infection or an STI. Some heart tablets or medical conditions can also make you prone to this. This causes swelling, usually on one side, as well as pain and redness. You might experience discharge from your penis and a burning sensation when you urinate.
Testicular torsion is where one of your testicles twists around, causing sudden, severe pain and swelling in the scrotum, as well as pain in the lower abdomen, nausea and vomiting. These symptoms require emergency care to prevent permanent damage to the testicle. It most commonly affects boys and teens, but it can happen at any age.
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and spread via skin-to-skin contact during sex. If you catch genital warts from your partner, you might develop growths on your scrotum, as well as on your penis and anus, and the surrounding areas. Genital warts often look like tiny cauliflowers and feel a bit rough to the touch; they don't usually itch or cause discomfort-unless they get caught in clothing or when shaving.
You can learn more about genital warts and order treatment online at our STI treatment clinic.