Self-Checks Save Lives

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology

Science is still puzzling out exactly what causes cancer and how to cure it, so, for now, the best option is to detect it early enough to give yourself the very best prognosis.

And one of the best ways to catch it in its early stages is to examine yourself regularly and know what to look for through a self-check.

While there are many different types of cancer, we’ll focus here on three that have simple self-check exams you can perform on yourself routinely: testicular, breast and skin cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, as one in every eight women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. The more familiar you are with how your breasts feel and look, the better you’ll be at finding changes.

A breast exam includes checking your breasts by touching them and visually checking them to find abnormalities that could indicate that something is wrong. The goal of the self-check is to catch abnormalities early.

  • Look for changes in skin texture, such as dimpling, puckering or the appearance of an orange peel.
  • Also note the shape and outline of each breast.
  • Check for any changes to the nipple.

Examining your breasts at home is a good technique for catching breast cancer early, when less aggressive treatment is needed and the results are better. Regular exams help you understand what is normal for your breast tissue and can help you spot it when the tissue changes.

Not all breast cancers can be found this way, however. Combining self-exams with other screening techniques increases your chance of catching cancer early. Cancer progresses in stages. As it progresses, it spreads to other body parts, making it harder to treat. Combining self-exams and screening tools help detect breast cancer in the earlier stages when treatment will likely be more successful.

Testicular cancer is most common in men between the ages of 15 to 35, but it can occur in men of any age. It is very treatable when detected early, and self-exams can be of great value.

Check one testicle at a time. Roll it gently between your fingers and thumb while looking for:

  • Smooth, rounded bumps or hard lumps
  • A shrinking testicle
  • Heavier-than-usual or enlarged testicle
  • Pain in the testicle or an ache in the lower groin or abdomen

Skin cancer can affect anyone at any age. It’s the most common kind of cancer, and it’s the easiest one to cure if found early.

To perform a self-check, remove your clothing and stand in front of a mirror. Start at the top of your body by examining your scalp and face. After that, check your torso, hands, arms, buttocks, groin, legs and feet. Don’t forget to look between your fingers and toes, under your arms and under your breasts. In order to examine your back, you’ll also need a hand mirror. On the first exam, take note of all your freckles, moles, birthmarks and so on.

Here’s what the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you look for:

  • Any growth that develops and looks pearly, tan, translucent, black, brown or multicolored.
  • A birthmark or mole that changes size, color or texture.
  • A mole that looks irregular in its outline and is bigger than 6mm.
  • Any new “mole” that appears after the age of 21.
  • A sore spot that continues to itch, crust, hurt, erode, scab or bleed and doesn’t heal in three weeks.

If you find any of these changes in your body during a self-check, it’s best to reach out to your primary care physician or specialist for their advice.