Ways to self-check for cancer signs and symptoms
Spotting cancer early plays a crucial role in successfully treating and managing cancer. By performing self-exams, you can become more aware of what your body usually looks and feels like, and be more able to spot any potential signs or changes that may indicate cancer. Below are ways that you can perform a breast self-exam, testicular self-exam or oral self-exam to spot some common cancer signs and symptoms.
It is important to remember that everyone’s bodies look and feel different, and that there is no right or wrong way to self-check for any changes. What is important is that you become familiar with the look and feel of your body, and to check for any changes that are different for you. If you have concerns, consult your healthcare professional.
Breast self-exams can increase the chances of detecting and diagnosing breast cancer early, and results have shown that such early detection leads to an increase in survival rates.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Australia (apart from non-melanoma skin cancer) and the second most common cancer to cause death in women after lung cancer. Both men and women can develop breast cancer, although it is uncommon in men.
Below are steps to perform a breast self-exam.
Place your hands at your sides and visually examine your breasts in the mirror, checking for anything which is not normal for your breasts.
Look for changes in colour, size or shape, any dimpling of the skin or “pulling-in” of the nipple.
Put your hands on your hips, push your shoulders forward to flex your chest muscles and finally, raise your hands over your head, looking again for any changes with each movement.
Lift one hand up and place it behind your head.
Using the pads on your fingers of your opposite hand, feel in small circular movements and examine all areas of your breast for anything unusual.
At first, feel lightly, checking for anything near the surface, and then repeat by pressing more firmly, feeling for anything deeper.
Make sure to check the entire breast, continuing up to your collarbone and out to your armpit.
Testicular cancer is the second most common cancer in young men (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), with the average age of diagnosis at 37 years old. If found early, testicular cancer is one of the most curable cancers, which is why a testicular self-exam is important.
The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a painless swelling or a lump in a testicle or a change in size or shape. Less common symptoms include feelings of heaviness in the scrotum or unevenness, pain or ache in the lower abdomen, the testicle or scrotum, back pain, or enlarged or tender breast tissue (due to hormones created by cancer cells). In some cases, testicular cancer may cause no symptoms.
To perform a testicular self-exam, make sure your scrotum is warm and relaxed. You may like to perform the self-exam after showering or bathing, and it may help to stand in front of a mirror.
Gently roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers, looking out for lumps, pain, swelling or hardness. Feel along the underside of the scrotum to find the epididymis that sits at the back of the testicle, which should feel tube-like. It’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger or lower than the other.
Each testicle should feel smooth and there should be no pain or discomfort when the testicles and scrotum are handled gently. If you notice any changes for you, you should consult a doctor.
Mouth or oral cancer can affect the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. Symptoms can include a lump in your neck, loose teeth, swelling or a sore on your lip that won’t heal, difficult or painful swallowing, changes in speech, bleeding or numbness in your mouth, white or red patches on the mouth, tongue or gums, or sudden weight loss.
Signs of mouth cancer are often first detected by your dentist. By performing oral self-exams in addition to regular dental check-ups, you can spot any potential signs that may indicate mouth cancer.
To perform an oral self-exam, make sure your hands are clean and it may help to use a flashlight. Examine your entire face, checking for any irregularities or changes in the symmetry between the two sides. Check both the inside and outside of your lips for changes in texture and colour.
Look at your gums, especially the area around your teeth, and check for bleeding or irregularities. Draw back the sides of your mouth and examine the inside of your cheeks for lumps, bumps or discoloration.
Check your tongue for irregularities. You can also feel it with a finger for any hard lumps. Also, feel around the neck and throat area for any unusual bumps.
Self-exams can be valuable for spotting cancer early. While performing these self-exams, however, it’s important to remember that you should still get regular check-ups and screenings with healthcare professionals. If you notice any changes that are different for you, it’s important to consult a doctor for further examination.