Many men detect scrotal masses during self-examination, though a physician may detect it during a routine physical exam. If a mass is found, the physician may recommend an ultrasound, or he/she might place a strong light behind the testicle to see whether light passes through. A testicular tumor is too solid, but light will pass through a mass or swelling caused by a hydrocele, which is fluid. The physician will also examine the other testicle for lumps, masses, or other abnormalities.
Any mass should be screened. Because other problems can cause symptoms similar to those of testicular cancer, the physician may order tests to screen out other problems, or to be sure the cancer has not spread. These tests may include:
- Blood test: To detect high levels of certain proteins that are often secreted by testicular cancer. These proteins include alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).
- Imaging or x-ray tests:
- CT scan: An imaging scan that screens for and determines the extent of the disease, and if it has reached surrounding tissues or other organs.
- Ultrasound: Images of the testes taken with a wand-like instrument called a transducer that emits sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off organs.
- Biopsy: Rarely performed given the risk for the spread of cancer; the affected testicle is almost always removed in its entirety for both diagnosis and treatment.