Many of us are concerned with maintaining optimal health for as long as possible. As such, we schedule annual doctors’ appointments and meet with specialists when needed, but did you know there are health exams you can perform on yourself as well? With a thorough how-to guide, you can administer self-exams in your home to check for suspicious moles and bumps that could be precursors to cancer. You should perform all these tests once a month. If you find anything suspicious, be sure to contact a health professional as soon as possible.
Though the risk of developing breast cancer in women between 30-34 is less than 1%, you should always take the time to perform an exam at home. Tragedy strikes at the most unsuspecting times, and you want to be able to respond quickly to a cancer diagnosis to improve your chances of survival.
Hormones can affect the outcome of your self-exam, which is why it’s recommended that you perform a self-assessment one week after your menstrual cycle has ended. Of course, if you’re menopausal, you can choose any day of the month.
There are a couple of ways you can perform a breast exam: lying down in front of the mirror or in the shower. Removing your clothes is necessary to perform this examination so you can properly exam the area without interference. Use the pads of your fingers to move your breast in a circular motion, depressing the area from the breast into the armpit. Check for lumped or hardened knots.
Stand in front of the mirror with your arms at your sides and then extend them over your head. As you perform this motion, look for changes in the contour or shape of your breast, skin dimpling, or changes to the areola.
When lying down, the breast tissue will spread out across the chest, making it easier to feel any bumps. Place a pillow under your right shoulder with your right arm behind your head. Use firm pressure with your left hand to move the pads of your fingers in small circles around your right breast and armpit. Repeat these processes for the left side.
Self-examination of the testes is vital for the early detection of testicular cancer. Since cancer typically appears in only one testicle, you can compare both testicles and check for irregularities. The best time to perform an exam is after a shower when the scrotal skin is in a relaxed state.
Cup each testicle in your hand, examining by rolling the testicle between the thumb and fingers. Don’t mistake your epididymis for an abnormal mass—it is the tube that carries sperm. Feel for any lumps, keeping in mind that not all abnormal masses will present as painful.
Skin cancer is especially dangerous because it affects people of all ages. Doctors recommend a monthly full body skin examination in front of a well-lit, full-length mirror. This examination must be thorough—inspect the skin on your scalp, face, neck, shoulder, back, legs, hands, feet. You may need to use a hand-held mirror to examine hard to reach areas such as the backs of your knees. Moles can appear anywhere, so know your pattern of moles and note any new moles or ones that have changed shape over time.
A normal mole is evenly colored, usually brown, tan, or black, and can be flat or raised. Some moles we are born with, while others develop in childhood and adulthood. Knowing your family history of skin cancer and propensity for developing moles should dictate how often you perform a skin examination.