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QUESTION: Am I supposed to be checking myself for testicular cancer? What am I looking and feeling for?

ANSWER: Great question! Cancer is scary and the thought of having cancer in the testicles is especially scary to most men.

The good news is that testicular cancer is pretty rare and usually treatable, especially if you find it early. The bad news is that it’s not one of the types of cancers you can get routinely screened for at your doctor’s office (like colon cancer in all adults after age 50 or cervical cancer after age 21 in women) so it’s pretty much up to you to recognize any strange symptoms.

Doing a regular self-exam is a great way to know how your body feels at baseline so that you can identify any changes. Everyone has their own normal lumps, bumps and asymmetries, so don’t freak out if you feel that.

However, if you notice a change or something that wasn’t there before, like a new lump or swelling, it’s a good idea to go in for a check. It’s also OK to see your provider for an exam if you just aren’t sure what you’re feeling or need help learning how to do an exam.

Yes, I know it’s embarrassing, but trust me; it’s just another day at the office for your provider. I can promise you they are not going to judge you or be grossed out. You can always request a specific gender provider if it makes you feel more comfortable. Also, it’s always OK to request a chaperone in the room for the exam, whether it’s someone you trust and brought with you to the appointment, or another clinic staff member. No matter how embarrassed you feel, if you have a concerning symptom it’s definitely better to get it checked out.

So let’s back up for a second and talk about how to do a self-exam. The best time to check is after you’ve had a bath or shower when you and your muscles are relaxed. First, in order to do a good exam, you need to be familiar with your own anatomy. You’ve got the scrotum (the sac of skin that holds the testicles), and then inside you can feel the firm oval-shaped testicles themselves. You might also feel a small tender tube running up the backside of the testicle. This is the vas deferens, the tube that the sperm travel through to get from the testicle to the penis.

Once you’ve got the basic lay of the land, stand and hold the scrotum in your hands in order to feel the general weight and size. Again, it’s normal for one side to be slightly larger than the other. Then feel the testicle, rolling it gently between your thumb and finger to feel the shape. It should feel pretty smooth and round.

That’s it — pretty easy! Your exact technique is not as important as just staying familiar with your own “normal” so that you can recognize any changes.

Corinna R. Michels earned a Masters of Science in Nursing at the University of California San Francisco. She was a Fulbright grant recipient in Colombia in 2013 and now works as a nurse practitioner in Yakima, where she lives with her family.

Regular self-exam a great way to get jump on testicular cancer