Medical exams, whether they're for school, a sport, or camp, are
usually pretty straightforward. Many parts of the exam make sense
to most guys: The scale is used to weigh you, the stethoscope is
used to listen to your heartbeat.
But why does the doctor need to touch and feel your testicles?
What could be going on down there - and isn't there a better, less
embarrassing way for him or her to check things out?
When you are healthy and going for a physical exam, the doctor
is interested in finding out specific things about your body and
your health. He or she will check your height and weight and take
your blood pressure. You'll have your heart listened to, and you
may be asked to breathe deeply or cough, so the doctor can hear
sounds or problems with your lungs. He or she will examine your
eyes, ears, nose, and throat; test your reflexes by tapping your
knees and ankles; and take your temperature. For all these parts
of the exam, the doctor relies on tools and equipment to get the
information that's needed.
However, for other parts of your body, the doctor must rely on
his or her sense of touch and training in knowing how things should
feel. During the physical, the doctor will touch your belly to feel
for any problems with your liver or spleen. He or she will feel
the lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, and groin to detect if there
is any swelling, which can indicate an infection or other problem.
And he or she will also need to feel the testicles and the area
around them to detect two important things: a hernia or a tumor.
A hernia can occur when a part of the intestine pushes out from
the abdomen and into the groin or scrotum (the sac of skin that
the testicles hang in). Some people believe that this can only happen
when a person lifts something heavy, but usually this isn't the
case. Most hernias occur because of a weakness in the abdominal
wall that the person was born with. If a piece of intestine becomes
trapped in the scrotum, it can cut off the blood supply to the intestine
and cause serious problems if the situation isn't quickly corrected.
A doctor is able to feel for a hernia by using his or her fingers
to examine the area around the groin and testicles. The doctor may
ask you to cough while he or she is pressing on or feeling the area.
Sometimes, the hernia causes a bulge that the doctor can detect;
if this happens, surgery almost always repairs the hernia completely.
Although testicular cancer is unusual in teen guys (it occurs in
3 out of 100,000 guys between the ages of 15 and 19 in the United
States), it is the second most common cancer seen during the teen
years. It is the most common cancer in guys 20 to 34 years of age.
Comedian Tom Green and Tour de France champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong
have both successfully won recent battles with testicular cancer.
It's very important that your doctor examines your testicles at
least once a year. When examining your testicles, your doctor will
grasp one testicle at a time, rolling it gently between his or her
thumb and first finger. He or she will feel for lumps and also pay
attention to whether the testicle is hardened or enlarged. The doctor
will explain how to do testicular self-exams.
If you're a teen guy, learning how to examine yourself at least
once a month for any lumps or bumps on your testicles is very important.
A tumor (growth or bump) on the testicles could be cancer. Knowing
how your testicles feel when they're healthy will help you know
when something feels different and possibly abnormal down there.
Noticing any new testicular lumps or bumps as soon as possible
gives the best chances for survival and total cure if it turns out
to be cancer.
Finally, keep in mind that even though it might feel weird to have
a doctor checking out your testicles, it's no big deal to him or
her. Sometimes when a doctor is examining that area, you might get
an erection, something you can't control. This is a normal reaction
that happens frequently during genital exams on guys. If it happens,
it won't upset or bother the doctor, so there's no need to feel