February is National Self-Check Month, a time when we’re reminded that it’s better to be proactive about our health and wellness than reactive. It’s also an excellent opportunity to talk with family and friends about the importance of performing self-checks to catch cancer early.
We’ve developed a quick two-step process to make National Self-Check Month productive and help you create a lifelong proactive approach toward your health.
Step 1: Document Your Medical History.
Documenting your medical history serves two purposes: The first is to be prepared when you have a physical exam, and the second is to increase your awareness of your current state of health. Unless your whole medical history is on file, a check-up typically starts with a conversation with the physician. They’ll want to know your family medical history, medical devices or prescriptions you may be using, current conditions, allergies and so on. To be fully prepared, take a summary of your medical history along. Maintain a running list that you update between appointments. Some items that should be part of your history include:
- Current diagnosis
- Allergies to medication
- Food allergies
- Medications that you are taking
- Past health issues
- Treatment plans
- Major surgeries (with dates)
- Medical devices you may be using
Step 2: Perform These Quick Self-checks.
Here are a few simple self-checks you can do in the privacy of your home in a matter of minutes.
Perform a skin self-exam in a well-lit room, ideally in front of a full-length mirror. Carefully examine the entire surface of your skin and learn the patterns of your freckles, blemishes and moles. Look for changes in color and shape. Moles that have become larger, raised or itchy should be checked by a professional.
Checking your breasts regularly makes you aware of their normal appearance and feel. To perform a self-check, use the pads of your fingers to feel the different depths of the breast; use different pressure levels to feel the breast tissue. Look for thick spots, lumps and other changes. Some of the best times to conduct a self-check would be while you’re taking a shower or lying in bed before going to sleep.
Standing at a mirror, open your mouth and familiarize yourself with the general appearance of your gums, tongue, teeth and lips. Each month check for any changes that may have taken place. Call your dentist if you see or feel anything abnormal.
The best time to check testicles is after a warm shower or bath. The heat from the water causes the skin of the scrotum to relax, making it easier to check. You can perform this test monthly, just before your breast and skin test. Examine each testicle. Apply light pressure and gently roll the testicle between your thumb and fingers. The testicles are usually smooth, oval in shape and somewhat firm. It’s not uncommon for one to be slightly larger. You’ll be looking for irregularities like small, painless lumps. By regularly performing this exam, you will become more familiar with your testicles and aware of any changes that might be of concern.
When we make regular self-checks a part of our lives, we increase our odds of discovering treatable conditions and better understand our current and changing health needs. If you spot anything out of the ordinary, follow up with your primary care physician and dig into the tests or screenings you can use to rule out any health issues.
At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.