Self-checking touchable testes

It is really important to get to know how your testes (balls, testicles, etc) feel, so that you know if anything is unusual. This is something all guys need to learn to do. Perhaps someone has already talked about this in health class (or Personal/Social Education class) at school.

It’s important to check them at least once a month to see if there are any changes.

Testes should feel smooth and soft, like a hard-boiled egg without the shell. Try this after a shower when the balls are naturally hanging a bit lower. At the back of the testes, you’ll probably feel some naturally lumpy tissue. It’s called the epididymis (the tube that carries the sperm away from the testis).

After checking your balls for a while, if you find any small lumps on other parts of your balls or if one of them has got noticeably bigger or heavier, don’t panic.   At your next check up, let the doctor know and have them check to make sure all is well.

Why is this so important?

With some conditions, there are increased risks of harmful change in the gonads/testes, depending on what kind of gonads they are. Testes have some risks, and gonads that haven’t completely developed (sometimes called ‘dysgenetic gonads) seem to have the highest risk.

While gonads often do a lot of good things like making your natural hormones, monitoring them is a way to make sure they aren’t changing in harmful ways.The first step to do this is by feeling them yourself and looking out for any changes.

If changes occur, some doctors might ask to remove a sample of tissue of the gonads (called ‘a biopsy’) during surgery might help doctors check on your gonads.

How exactly do I check my testes and how do I know if there are harmful changes?

First, check for any swelling of the skin. Then examine each testis with both hands, placing the index and middle fingers under the testis with thumbs placed on top. Roll it gently to look for problems. During this process you should feel no pain.

You’re looking for pain and lumps – lumps are usually found on the side of the balls, but can also be found on the front. Lumps on the epididymis are not cancerous.

Other signs of harmful changes are also possible:

  • a testis may become very heavy & big or become very small
  • you feel a dull pain in your groin area, lower belly, or back
  • you feel pain in your scrotum
  • you are very tired and generally feel unwell

It’s really important to not automatically assume there are harmful changes– especially if you haven’t detected a lump. Lots of people get worried that ball-ache might be a sign of a harmful change like cancer. In reality, testicular cancer usually doesn’t cause pain and shows up with a painless lump.

Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among men aged 15–34 years, but also easily treatable if caught quickly. This is why it’s important to check your balls for any lumps and bumps regularly and have them checked by doctors if you find anything suspicious.

What if my testes are not visible or touchable? (for guys)

Testes form in the abdomen during a baby’s early development. They usually drop into the scrotum just before birth.

Sometimes one or both testes don’t drop straight away, but they do eventually or with some surgical help (called orchidopexy (a gonad movement surgery)) when they remain higher up in the belly or groin area. When the balls are brought into a lower position, it will hopefully be easier for you and your doctor to check them to make sure they aren’t changing in potentially harmful ways.

In some guys with a difference of sex development (DSD), balls may be very small. In other guys, the balls may even have disappeared during development in the womb (a.k.a. ‘vanishing testes‘). It is also possible that you have only one testis or no testes. This might be because you have lost one or two of them through injury or because they were removed because of potentially harmful changes.

For guys without one or both testes in the scrotum, silicone balls can be placed in the scrotum for guys who have their tissues removed or who don’t have them – ask your doctors if you want to know more about this.

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