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Expert Q&A

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Should teen boys check testicles regularly?

Asked by Norm, Georgia

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At my teenage son's recent visit to the pediatrician, he was advised to check his testicles regularly. Is this necessary? I don't remember being told this when I was growing up.

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thank you for your question and for being involved in your child's health. Testicular self-exams (TSE for short) can be a good way for men to learn what their testicles (also called testes) normally feel like so that if there is a new lump or other change, they will notice it and can seek medical care right away.

Some doctors recommend a monthly testicular self-exam for all males age 15 years and older, and most experts agree that at the very least, the testicles should be examined by a physician during routine check-ups. Regular TSEs are a good idea in particular for males who have had a history of an undescended testicle or who have a family history of testicular cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, testicular cancer is most common in men between 20 and 54 years of age. This type of cancer affects Caucasian males more often than males of other races and ethnicities and is least common in Africa and Asia.

Testicular cancer is relatively rare, affecting roughly one in 300 men (compared with one in eight women who get a breast cancer diagnosis) and is successfully treatable especially when detected early. In fact, there are about 170,000 survivors of testicular cancer in the U.S. today.

Symptoms of testicular cancer may include the discovery of a hard lump (which is usually painless), swelling of the testicle or an achy feeling in the scrotum or abdomen. However, similar symptoms may also occur if there's an injury, swelling or infection of various parts of the male anatomy, so it is important that a physician make the diagnosis if something abnormal is found on a self-exam.

Teenage boys may also experience a twisted testicle (called testicular torsion), which causes sudden pain, redness and swelling of the scrotum. This condition requires immediate surgical treatment to avoid possible loss of blood flow to the testicle, which can result in permanent damage.

In summary, I do feel it is good practice for boys to know what their testicles normally feel like and recommend annual checkups so the doctor can examine the testicles as well.

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