Testicular diseases are not common and apart from testicular cancer and testicular torsion, are not usually serious.
Seek medical advice for any testicular pain or any change in the testicles, such as a lump or firmness.
Don’t be embarrassed. If you normally see a female GP, you can ask to see a male doctor if you prefer.
What is testicular disease?
Testicular disease can take a variety of forms:
Testicular cancer. Like any cancer, testicular cancer happens when cells in the testicle develop mutations that cause them to “misbehave”. The cells may multiply recklessly and invade areas where they don't belong. In testicular cancer, this process usually creates a slow-growing painless lump or firmness in one testicle. In most cases, the man himself discovers it at an early stage. If a man gets medical attention early on, testicular cancer is almost always curable.
Testicular torsion. “Torsion” means twisting - and for a testicle, that's not a good thing. When testicular torsion occurs, the twisting “kinks off” and blocks the blood vessels to one testicle. Certain men have a developmental problem that makes them susceptible to testicular torsion. Although testicular torsion is rare, it is an emergency. Sudden testicular pain demands an immediate trip to accident and emergency. If treatment is delayed, the testicle can die.
Epididymitis. The epididymis is a long, coiled tube that sits alongside the testicle. Its job is to store sperm while they mature. Epididymitis occurs when the epididymis become inflamed or infected. Sometimes, this is a sexually transmitted infection. More often, epididymitis comes from injury, a build-up of pressure such as after a vasectomy, or from urine backwashing into the tubules during heavy lifting or straining. Epididymitis can cause symptoms ranging from mild irritation to severe testicle pain and swelling and fever.
Varicocele. Varicocele is a dilation of the veins above the testicle and is usually harmless. Occasionally, however, varicoceles can impair fertility or cause mild to moderate pain. If you have a bulge above your testicle, especially when you're standing or “bearing down”, a doctor should examine you.
Hydrocele. Hydrocele refers to a fluid collection surrounding the testicle and is usually benign. But if it is large enough, it can cause pain or pressure. Though men can develop a hydrocele after injury, the majority of men with hydroceles have no obvious trauma or known cause.
What can I do to prevent testicular disease?
There is no proven way to prevent testicular cancer. This is why early detection is so important. Experts recommend that all young men perform a testicular self-examination monthly. There also is no recommended method to prevent varicoceles, hydroceles or testicular torsion. Epididymitis can sometimes be prevented by practising safe sex and avoiding heavy lifting or straining with a full bladder.