Testicles are important organs for young men because they produce sperm and the male sex hormones (testosterone) which cause male developmental characteristics, such as a deep voice, chest hair and muscle strength.
Lumps and swellings in the testicles are a relatively common symptom in boys and men, and can have a number of different causes.
The vast majority of testicular lumps and swellings are caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions that may not need treatment, but it's important to know what's normal for you and to see your GP if you notice any changes in your testicles so they can try to identify the cause.
What causes testicular lumps and swellings?
There are many possible reasons why your testicles may become swollen or develop a lump. Some of the main causes are:
- Varicoceles – swellings caused by swollen and enlarged veins within the scrotum
- Hydroceles – swellings caused by a build-up of fluid around the testicle
- Epididymal cysts – lumps caused by a collection of fluid in the epididymis (a coiled tube behind the testicles)
- Epididymo-orchitis – inflammation of the epididymis and testicles
- Inguinal hernias – where fatty tissue or a part of your bowel pokes through into your groin, which can cause the scrotum to become enlarged
A sudden and severely painful swelling in one of your testicles can be a sign of a condition called testicular torsion, which is where the blood supply to a testicle is interrupted.
In rare cases, testicular lumps can be a sign of testicular cancer. Cancer Research UK estimates that fewer than four in every 100 testicular lumps are cancerous. (NHS choices, 2014)
Testicular cancer is becoming more common with research suggesting that the common age for a male to be affected is between 15 and 45 years. 45 per cent of those diagnosed are reported to be under 35 year old.
Possible risk factors include being born with an undescended testicle at birth, a brother or father with testicular cancer, repeated knocks or trauma to the scrotum and sedentary lifestyle (when a person has little or no physical exercise).
Recent research also suggests that men who smoke cannabis on a regular basis and develop testicular cancer may develop a more aggressive type.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a hard lump in the testicles.
If caught early, testicular cancer is 98% curable.
It’s really important to look after your testicles and perform testicular self-examination on a regular basis – at least once a month.
Testicular self-examination is easy to perform. It takes a few minutes, and it’s best to do this after a hot bath or shower. You’ll need to get to know what is normal and do not confuse the epididymis with a cancerous lump. Also, be aware that one testicle may be slightly bigger or hang lower than the other.
GPs are used to seeing young men with testicular swelling and the examination is simple.
Rather than wait around and worry about an unusual lump, bump or abnormality in either testicle, get your GP to check it out at the earliest opportunity.
Get to know and care for your testicles and tell your mates to do the same.
For more information on risk factors, symptoms and video advice on testicular self-examination, visit the Your privates website.