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Why Do I Need Testicular Exams?

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.

Hernias
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.

Testicular Cancer
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 embarrassed.

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