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Gentlemen, Know Thy Nuts (To Check For Testicular Cancer)

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Written by Alexis Dobranowski, Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

Know thy nuts.

Seems like a reasonable -- and achievable -- command, doesn't it, gentlemen?

And when it comes to testicular cancer, it could mean catching the disease early.

I noticed the #knowthynuts hashtag in a tweet by Movember Canada last week and had a little chuckle (who doesn't love a good pun?) It's quite a catchy campaign and great way of putting it in order to raise awareness of this highly treatable cancer: Fellas, be familiar with your testicles and any changes down there.

Dr. Danny Vesprini, radiation oncologist at the Odette Cancer Centre, says self-screening really is the best -- and actually the only -- way to find testicular cancer early.

"There are no other screening tests for it. And it is best when we find it early," he said "The best way to find testicular cancer early is to touch your testicles and feel for it."

A rare cancer

"Testicular cancer is not very common," Dr. Vesprini says. It affects about 1,500 men per year in Canada. Although it can happen at any age, it is most common in young men -- peaking between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. For reasons not yet known, that number is on the rise -- but it's still considered a rare cancer. When caught early it is usually confined to the testicle, but can spread to other parts of the body as well.

A family history of testicular cancer or an undescended testicle as a child are both risk factors.

Go ahead, give 'em a feel

Many men find testicular cancer because they notice something is different about their testicles.

"We know that men might be down there for other reasons," Dr. Vesprini says. "Next time you are, feel your testicles for a painless mass."

Actually, he says, you should do a self-exam each month.

You might want to do this self-test after a warm shower, the folks at Movember recommend. This helps "get you in the mood", they say. (Actually, it relaxes your scrotum.)

Do this one at a time: Use both hands to hold your testicle between your fingers and thumbs. Look and feel for any lumps, bumps, hardness, or irregularities on the skin or inside your testicle. Your testicle should feel firm and sensitive, but not painful. (Here's more detailed info on how to do a self-test).

Testicular cancer doesn't necessarily cause pain in the testicles -- that's why feeling for a hard lump or bump and looking for changes is the best way to find this kind of cancer early.

The prognosis

If you do feel something suspicious or different, make an appointment with your family doctor. You'll likely then undergo an ultrasound to look at the testicle to see if there's a tumour.

Testicular cancer is a highly treatable cancer. Most often it is treated by removing the cancerous testicle and sparing the other. Most men do not require chemotherapy or radiation, though some do (to stop the cancer if it is spreading).

"The management for men who have the disease confined to the testicle is called 'Surveillance' and involves regular scans and check-ups," Dr. Vesprini said. "Having cancer in one testicle increases the chance of developing a new tumour in the other testicle, so regular self and professional testicular examinations remain vital."

Removing one testicle won't affect a man's fertility. But men who want to have children are usually advised to bank their sperm, Dr. Vesprini says, just in case something happens to the remaining healthy testicle.

Catching cancer early is key. Gentlemen, know thy nuts. And if you notice any changes, lumps or bumps on your testicle(s), make an appointment with your doctor.

April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month.

Learn more about men's health from Sunnybrook experts at

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