Although cancer strikes millions of men and women a year, many cancer patients are living longer, largely because they knew the disease’s early-warning signs and sought treatment promptly.
The quicker the detection of cancer, the better the chance of a cure. To protect yourself from two forms of the disease – breast cancer in women, testicular cancer in men – learn how to do these simple self-examinations and practice them every month. They could save your life.
HOW TO EXAMINE YOUR BREASTS
Eighty to 90 per cent of all breast cancers can be cured when caught early. And one of the best ways to discover a breast lump early is through a monthly breast self-exam.
Although the incidence of breast cancer is highest among women over age 50, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that all women over the age of 20 examine their breasts regularly for any changes. If you don’t know how, ask your doctor to show you to follow this simple method:
Step 1: Stand in the shower, where soap and water help your hands glide easily over your skin. Lift your left arm over your head and, with the fingers of your right hand, press gently in a series of small circles on the outer rim of the left breast, slowly working your way clockwise and inward toward the nipple. Then examine your right breast in the same way with your left hand.
Step 2: Stand in front of a mirror and look at your breasts, first with your arms at your sides and then with your arms raised over your head. Next place your hands on your hips and flex your chest muscles. Note any changes in the appearance of your beasts. Is there a dimpling of the skin? Check your nipples to make sure that neither is turning inward instead of out. (Some women have normally inverted nipples – what you should be looking for is a change in appearance.)
Step 3: Lie on your back on your bed or on the floor with a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right hand behind your head and, using the same technique you used in step 1, check your right breast with your left hand. Then place the pillow under your left shoulder and check your left breast with your right hand. Don’t forget to check your underarms for swellings. Gently squeeze your nipples to see if there’s any blood or discharge.
The best time to examine your breast is about a week after your period, when any swelling and tenderness caused by hormonal changes have disappeared. If you’re pregnant or past menopause, do your check on the first day of each month to make remembering easier.
Report to your doctor right away if you find any unusual lump, thickening, or discharge. Although 80 per cent of breast lumps are not cancerous, only your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis.
Testicular cancer is a rare, and most cases that are caught early can be cured. Advanced cases, however, are deadly, and the victims are usually young; the incidence of this cancer is highest in men between the ages of 10 and 40. Those at greatest risk are men with undescended testicles – testicles that haven’t properly descended into the scrotal sac.
The first sign of testicular cancer is ordinarily a slight enlargement of one of the testicles and a lump or small growth called a nodule. Generally these changes in consistency cause no pain. Some men, however, may feel a dull ache and a sensation of heaviness in the lower abdomen and groin.
The ACS recommends that all men past puberty examine their testicles once a month. The best time is during or after a warm shower or bath, when the scrotal skin most relaxed. Simply roll each testicle gently between the thumb and fingers.
(Note: The epididymis, a cordlike structure in the tail of the testicles, is occasionally lumpy. This is normal – don’t be alarmed.) If you feel any hard lumps directly attached to the testicles, see your doctor promptly.
Treatment of this cancer involves surgical removal of the diseased testicle. Fortunately, cancerous lumps are almost always confined to one testicle, and the other is fully capable of maintaining fertility.