Self Examinations

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In addition to the tests and screenings that your doctor performs during routine checkups, there are two important self-examinations that you should do regularly to detect any early signs of cancer. The testicle self-examination can help you identify any early signs of cancer of the testicle, and the skin self-examination will aid you in spotting early signs of skin cancer.

Testicle Self-Examination

Examining your testicles once a month will help you to become familiar with their normal appearance so you can tell if something unusual turns up. A small, hard, painless lump on or enlargement of a testicle could be a sign of cancer. This type of cancer usually affects young men between the ages of 15 and 35. If another man in your family had cancer of the testicle, your risk is higher than normal. Early detection and treatment of cancer of the testicle is crucial because the cure rate is very high (about 90 percent) when the disorder is found and treated early.

The best time to examine your testicles is after a shower or a bath, when the muscles in your scrotum are relaxed. To examine your testicles, follow these steps:

• While standing in front of a mirror, look for any swelling on the surface of the scrotum.

• Using both hands, examine each testicle by placing your index and middle fingers underneath the testicle with the thumbs placed on top. Gently roll the testicle between the thumbs and fingers. One testicle may seem slightly larger than the other, but that is usually normal.

• Feel for abnormal lumps, about the size of a pea, on the sides or front of each testicle. Abnormal lumps are usually painless. Do not confuse the epididymis (the soft, tubelike structure on top of and behind the testicle) with a lump.

Staying Healthy

If you find a lump, call your doctor right away. The lump may be an infection that requires treatment, or it may be cancer. You should also contact your doctor if one of your testicles has not descended from the abdomen, if you have pain or swelling in your scrotum, or if you feel a collection of veins above one of your testicles. These signs do not indicate the presence of cancer of the testicle but may point to another disorder of the testicles. Only a physician can make an accurate diagnosis. Be sure to see your physician regularly in addition to performing routine self-examinations. Your doctor should examine your testicles during a checkup. He or she also can check the way you perform a testicle self-examination.

Skin Self-Examination

Examining your own skin is the best way to find skin cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. This is especially true of malignant melanoma, the most virulent and sometimes deadly form of skin cancer. A skin self-examination should be a regular part of your health routine. To identify abnormal-looking moles, look for the following signs of skin cancer:

ABCD of Moles

ABCD of Moles


One half of the mole is a different size or shape than the other half.


The edges of the mole are irregular, notched, or blurred.


The color may be uneven, containing shades of brown, black, white, blue, pink, or red.


The mole is typically larger than a pencil eraser (half an inch).

Malignant melanoma may also cause a mole to change in a number of ways, becoming scaly or crusted; oozing; or becoming harder or softer. The mole might change in size, or the skin around the mole could redden, swell, bleed, or itch. A red, scaly patch or a red or flesh-colored nodule could also develop next to the mole. A change in any mole is an important warning sign.

Carefully examine your skin from head to toe every month, including your scalp, the soles of your feet, and between your toes. Use a mirror to check your back, or ask someone else to check it for you. If you see anything unusual, contact your doctor, even if you think it is nothing. Remember that skin cancer is most easily cured when detected early.

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