Second only to heart disease, cancer is one of the top causes of death for men in the United States according to the CDC. There are lots of things men can do to reduce their risk of cancer, like eating healthy, staying active, refraining from smoking, and attending their regular complete health exams, however, that doesn’t make it entirely preventable. Thousands of men who live even the healthiest of lifestyles are diagnosed with some form of cancer everyday.
The good news is that early cancer detection increases the success of treatment and chances of remission, and self exams are a measure that men can take to be in better control when it comes to their health. They help men get to know the normal state of their bodies, which, in turn, makes it much easier to detect abnormalities, and get them checked out by a doctor as soon as they crop up.
Barton has identified 4 important self exams that men of all ages should get in the habit of conducting monthly from our complete Men’s Health Checklists. Ask your doctor for medical advice on how to conduct the following self exams at home, or check out the resources linked below.
Testicular Self Exam
Fortunately, testicular cancer is rather uncommon and easily treated, but it is still important to stay on top of any subtle changes to ensure that you can detect and treat it in the first place.
All men with testes should perform regular testicular self exams monthly, but some men are at a higher risk of developing testicular cancer than others, such as men who had undescended testicles at birth, and men who are infertile.
Performing testicular self exams (TSE) poses no health risks, can easily be done in the bath or shower, and doesn’t take any longer than a few minutes. If you notice any abnormalities like changes in size, shape, or lumps when conducting a self examination, keep in mind that not all changes are necessarily malignant. Other benign conditions besides cancer include cysts, testicular torsion, or varicose veins. However, benign or not, if you do notice any changes, whether inconspicuous or apparent, immediately make an appointment with your primary care physician.
See guidelines from the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation to learn how to perform self testicular exams.
Skin Self Exam
Taking care of your skin includes wearing sunscreen every day (yes, even in the winter!), limiting your exposure to direct UVA and UVB rays, and conducting skin self exams regularly. Like most cancers, skin cancer is more likely to be treated successfully if detected and treated in its early stages.
While everybody, regardless of gender, can get skin cancer, especially if they’ve previously had it in their medical history, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that, depending on age, men are more likely to develop skin cancer than women starting at the age of 50, with more than half of those diagnosed with one basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and invasive melanoma being men.
Some speculated reasons for this gap are that men tend not to wear sunscreen, get their skin checked by a doctor regularly, or conduct self skin exams. Men who work outdoors, especially those who don’t protect or regularly check their skin, are also more likely to get skin cancer due to a lifetime of unprotected sun exposure.
Like any self exam, getting to know what spots, freckles, and moles are normal on your body will help you detect which ones are new or look out of the ordinary so you can immediately see your doctor. If you don’t already see a dermatologist, it is also recommended that men start going to checkups annually on top of conducting self exams.
See guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology Association to learn how to conduct self skin exams.
Breast Self Exam
Yes, you read that right, even men should perform breast self exams! Though the focus of breast cancer awareness and preventative care is generally centered around women, men are also susceptible to breast cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society estimates that 2,710 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men in 2022.
Despite common perceptions, male breasts still have ducts and lobules where cancer can develop, and men even share some of the same risk factors for breast cancer as women, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in their family history.
While breast cancer in men is rare, men who are diagnosed with it usually catch it at a later stage, making it much harder to treat. Because men do not have routine mammogram screenings like women, and many men may not be aware that they can even get breast cancer, it is harder to detect at an earlier stage. These may be considered as risk factors on their own, making awareness and early detection of male breast cancer through self breast exams of paramount importance.
Oral Self Exam
Mouth cancer can develop on any of the parts that make up the mouth like the lips, gums, tongue, inner cheek lining, roof of the mouth, or under the tongue, and is one of many types of cancer in the broader category of head and neck cancers. Like skin cancer, anyone can get mouth cancer, but it is more common in men making up 70% of yearly oral cancer diagnoses. Coincidentally, one similar risk factor to skin cancer is prolonged sun exposure, which can cause cancer in the lip area.
The risk of developing mouth cancer is greatly increased by tobacco and alcohol use, with 85% of head and neck cancers being linked to some form of tobacco use, and using tobacco and alcohol together only further increases your risk.
Unfortunately, many mouth cancer symptoms can be confused with benign conditions, such as cold sores or canker sores. However, the biggest indicator of mouth cancer that men should pay attention to is lip or mouth growths and sores that do not heal. This is why it is important to conduct a regular monthly self exam, and make an appointment with your doctor or dentist if you have any symptoms that persist for over 2 weeks.
See guidelines from the Mouth Cancer Foundation or the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons to learn how to conduct self oral exams.
For more comprehensive information on which medical exams, screenings, and vaccines you should be getting, as well as when and how frequently you should get them based on your age, check out our full Men’s Health Checklists for recommendations for every adult age group.
The above self exams should not replace your regular physical examination with your physician. If you detect any abnormalities during any self exam, or have questions about your health, please seek medical attention for a formal physical exam from a health care professional.