Testicular Cancer

Investigations for testicular cancer

To help to diagnose testicular cancer doctors recommend various investigations, including an ultrasound scan, x-rays and blood tests. 

The ultrasound test can often distinguish between cancer and lumps or swelling due to other causes. It uses sound waves to build up a picture of the testes.

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Many men were aware of ultrasound scans as a procedure that women have during pregnancy. One man said he felt a little foolish, waiting for his ultrasound scan with a group of pregnant women. He also felt frightened because he didn't know what was going to happen.

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The ultrasound scan doesn't hurt, but some men found it uncomfortable, cold, messy or embarrassing. Sometimes an ultrasound scan is also used to see whether or not there are secondary tumours in the abdomen.

CT (CAT) scans are usually done after the testicle has been removed to check for any sign that the cancer has spread to the lungs or to the lymph glands in the abdomen. The CT scan takes a series of X-rays which are fed into a computer to build up a three dimensional picture of the inside of the body. Some men said that the CT machine looked like a 'polo-mint', others described it as a 'big mechanical doughnut' with a moving bed going through the middle of it.

Older CT machines can take over 30 minutes to take all the necessary x-rays. One man remembered that he was told to 'take a deep breath', 'hold it', and then 'relax' over a period of 45 minutes. However, modern CT machines can take all the necessary x-rays in only take a few minutes.

Some men recalled the 'bitter', aniseed or liquorice flavoured drink they were given before the CT scan. They were asked to arrive in the x-ray department an hour before the scan to have this drink. The drink contains a dye, which allows areas of their body to be seen more clearly. A few men were also given a dye by injection (into a vein). This injection made some men feel warm, particularly in the groin area. 

Some men remembered having an investigation called Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This test uses magnetism to build up cross-sectional pictures of the body. The MRI machine was also described as a 'big, big, doughnut'. The MRI test doesn't hurt, but can take up to an hour, and one man remembered the clanking noise and his feelings of claustrophobia. However, one man recalled that he quite enjoyed it.

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Lymph angiograms are never done nowadays, but two men who both had testicular cancer many years ago, recalled their 'harrowing' experience of this test.

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Waiting for the results of these tests can be an anxious time (see 'Waiting for results').

Last reviewed December 2017.
Last updated October 2011.


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