5 Preventive Health Checks You Can Easily Do at Home
Posted June 19, 2023 by Dr. Maria “Alex” Schiaffino, Program Director for Summa Health Family Medical Residency
The saying “early detection is the best prevention” exists to remind us of the importance of discovering disease early so treatment can begin promptly. With most diseases, catching them early leads to better outcomes. Depending on your age and gender, that means scheduling annual screenings for diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol, as well as breast, cervical, skin, prostate and colon cancer.
But while these tests are vital to your health, you can’t rely on them alone. For example, there are numerous instances of women detecting lumps in their breasts just months after a clear mammogram. That’s why being familiar with your body and what’s normal for you can be the difference between an early diagnosis and finding it after the disease has already progressed.
Self-exams have long been recommended to help people keep an eye out for potential problems so they can bring them to their provider’s attention. Summa Health reminds you of 5 self-checks that you can easily perform at home to help prevent advanced disease. It’s as simple as incorporating them into your daily hygiene routine.
In recent years, the medical community has moved away from recommending routine breast self-exams as part of breast cancer screening. That’s because they haven’t been shown to be effective in detecting cancer or improving a woman’s survival who has breast cancer.
However, doctors believe it’s still important for women to be familiar with their own breasts, so they understand what’s normal and can promptly report changes to their providers.
A common way to perform a breast self-exam is by lying down on your back to spread your breast tissue out. Using your three middle fingers, press down and move them in a circular motion, following a pattern around your entire breast to feel for lumps or abnormalities.
Then, examine your breasts in the mirror and be on the lookout for:
- Nipple discharge
- Inverted nipples
- Breast asymmetry
- Changes in the skin, such as redness, dimpling or bumps
If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment as early as possible with your primary care provider who may recommend a mammogram, ultrasound or biopsy and refer you to a breast specialist. Remember, men also can get breast cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in this country than all other cancers combined. To check your whole body, use a mirror to see your back or ask a friend or relative to take a photo of hard-to-see places. In addition, make sure you’re looking at your underarms, forearms, palms, soles of your feet, between your toes and your scalp.
Look for moles with the following features:
- Asymmetrical borders or strangely shaped
- Bigger than a pencil eraser
- Spots that itch, bleed or change color
If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider who may order a biopsy or refer you to a dermatologist.
If you brush and floss regularly and see the dentist twice a year, you are already doing something right! In between visits, here are a few things to watch out for:
- Painful mouth sores that don’t heal or recur often
- Red or white patches or swelling on the tongue, gums or cheeks
- Jaw pain
- Tooth sensitivity
- Bleeding gums
These symptoms could be signs of anything from an infection to cavities to oral cancer. When in doubt, see your dentist for further evaluation.
Although not a common cancer, about 9,000 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2023, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news is when detected early, it is highly curable.
The best time to check the testes is in the shower when the scrotum’s skin is relaxed. Check one testicle at a time by holding the testicle between both hands and rolling your thumbs and fingers around to feel for lumps. Also check to see if there has been a change to the size, shape or consistency of your testicles.
Report any findings, including soreness or pain, to your primary care provider who will determine if you need testing and/or a referral to a urologist.
Waist circumference or belly size
Keeping tabs on your waistline tells you how much fat is on your abdomen. Belly fat, also known as visceral fat, contains hormones and inflammatory markers that put people at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
For an accurate measurement:
- Measure over your bare skin
- Loop a fabric tape measure around your back at belly button level.
- Don’t pull it too tight.
To keep your health risk low, men should have a waist circumference under 37 inches and women should be under 32 inches.
By making healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, and performing regular self-checks, you help reduce your risk of advanced cancer and other diseases. Put your health in your own hands and perform self-exams. If you have any concerns, make sure to address them right away with your primary care provider.