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? Isn't there a better, less embarrassing way 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, take your temperature, and take your blood pressure. The doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and will probably examine your eyes, ears, nose, and throat, and may also test your reflexes by tapping your knees and ankles. 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's sense of touch and training are the key to 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 may also 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 your doctor will also need to feel your testicles and the area around them to be sure they're developing properly and there are no problems. Two possible problems that can affect teen guys are hernias and — rarely — testicular cancer.
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 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.
It's very important for your doctor to examine your testicles at least once a year. When doing so, your doctor will grasp one testicle at a time, rolling it gently between his or her thumb and first finger to feel for lumps and also checking whether the testicle is hardened or enlarged.
The doctor also will explain how to do testicular self-exams. 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 — this is something you can't control. It's 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.