Your Body

Once a year we face a host of small check-ups to make sure we’re just as healthy as all the years before. We go to our primary care physician, get the dreaded finger-prick for blood, turn in a urine sample when we don’t need to pee, and answer uncomfortable questions our adult company waits eagerly to hear. When we entered college, we transitioned from pediatrics to adult primary care. However, this transition may have caused an extended period of time between doctor visits because life gets in the way and you never end up booking that appointment. In this case, it’s now been over a year since your last check-up, and you may not recognize your body’s something-isn’t-right signals.

Anything can happen and sometimes the symptoms are so small, we don’t notice until it’s too late. The numerous walk-in clinics that have popped up are great for getting a quick look-over, but there are a few things we should check regularly at home.

Breasts:

One of the best times to check your breasts is during or after a shower. This applies to males and females; yes, males can get breast cancer.

  1. Look at your breasts in the mirror with shoulders straight and arms at hips. Note if your breasts are their usual size, shape, and color, and if there’s swelling. Check for dimpling, puckering of skin, a nipple that has moved position, or soreness.
  2. Repeat with arms raised.
  3. Gently squeeze nipples and look for any fluid—whether this is watery, milky or yellow fluid or blood.
  4. While lying down, use your opposite hand to check your left or right breasts with a firm touch and circular motion. Make sure to cover from collarbone to top of abdomen and from cleavage to underarm.
  5. Repeat while sitting.

If you feel any strange lumps during your examination, have unusual liquid coming from your nipple, or are experiencing any other pain, you should visit a gynecologist or primary care physician.

Testicles:

In addition to inspecting breasts, males should check their testicles. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “for young men aged 15-34, testicular cancer is the most common cancer…in the United States.”

  1. Stand in front of mirror and study for swelling of skin on scrotum.
  2. Test each testicle for lumps by rolling gently between fingers. Place index and middle fingers under each testicle with thumb on top.
  3. Check epidermis for lumps. Be careful that you don’t mistake this for an abnormal lump; it’s located behind the testicle and most cancerous lumps are found on the sides.

Vulva:

Vulva self-examinations are simple tests that may help women discover some sexually transmitted diseases.

  1. Using a mirror, check the vulva area for reddish or flesh-colored bumps or blisters, open sores, or warts. Be wary, some may look like pimples.
  2. Spread outer lips and inspect clitoris for same signs as above.
  3. Next, look at inner lips and urinary and vaginal openings.
  4. Check for unusual or foul smelling discharge.

A common practice among women to clean their vagina is douching. However, many doctors recommend not doing so as it can disrupt the balance of bacteria and acidity naturally found in the vagina, which protects against harmful irritations and infections.

Moles:

Skin cancer: the three most common types are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

  1. Scan the front and back of body in front of mirror, checking both sides with arms raised.
  2. Examine face, especially the nose, lips, mouth, and ears.
  3. With a blow dryer, section off hair to check the scalp for moles.
  4. It’s important to examine hard to see places such as the lower back, buttocks, back of legs, scalp, and behind the ears.

During this check, look for skin growths that have increased in size or appear unusually brown or black, multi-colored, pearly, or translucent. Note any changes in birth or beauty marks, particularly changes in color, size, thickness, texture, or if it is bigger than ¼”. Sores that last longer than three weeks, continue to itch, scab, or bleed should be reviewed by a dermatologist.

Heart:

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found heart disease to be the leading cause of death for both men and women in America. This test is probably one of the easiest and least time-consuming.

  1. Count pulse for ten seconds by placing the first two fingers on the base of your opposite hand wrist. (If this is difficult, you can check underneath your jaw in the crook of your neck.)
  2. Multiply number by six.

The National Institute of Health suggests the average resting heart rate for adults is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If it’s high, you should visit your doctor. You should also pay attention to irregularities in the space between beats as this could be a sign of atrial fibrillation or other heart issues.

Mouth:

We’re recommended to get a teeth cleaning every six months and regularly brush, floss, and swish mouthwash between appointments. However, it’s not uncommon to forgo flossing and/or mouthwash because of the extra time it adds to our routine. Mouth diseases such as gingivitis, periodontitis, and oral cancer can result from poor mouth regimen.

  1. Press the fronts and sides of neck for lumps or tenderness.
  2. Pull lower and upper lips to look and feel for changes in texture, lumps, or sores. Make sure to also check inside of the cheeks and the roof of your mouth for the same signs.
  3. Extend tongue and inspect for color or texture changes or swelling.
  4. Lastly, look at gum lines for tenderness, bleeding while flossing, receding gums, or inflammation and redness.

Considering how much we put in our mouths, it’s all too easy for mouth diseases to run amok. Most of these can easily be prevented with thorough brushing and routine cleanings by a dentist, which are a much deeper cleaning than anything we can do at home.

These self-examinations should generally be done once a month and are beneficial for early detection and treatment. If you see anything abnormal, health care professionals urge you to set up an appointment because it’s better to be on the safe side than potentially let something harmful go. Also, if you have a family history of any serious health issue, you should routinely visit your physician.

Illustration by Xia Rondeau