When it comes to your health, no-one knows your body better than you. Be it a lump, an abnormal mole or even a feeling of general malaise, some changes in your body should not be ignored. This week, #HealthAhead will be raising awareness about signs to look out for, tips on how to recognize changes in your body, and the importance of regular checkups.
A growing problem
Progressive diseases like cancer can often be caught at an early stage. However, many people simply don’t check. Research has revealed a widespread lack of public awareness of early warning signs of some illnesses, such as unusual lumps that can be associated with certain cancers, and how regular self-exams can help identify them. Teaching the importance of recognizing changes in the body, and knowing when to get checked, has become a focal point of healthcare programs worldwide.
One in eight women will get breast cancer, and at least one third do not regularly self-check for lumps.1 The disease accounts for approximately 459,000 deaths each year. In men, deaths from prostate cancer are estimated at around 307,000 a year. For testicular cancer, while the incidence is relatively low, it has doubled over the last 40 years.2 Simple checks performed at home, followed up with appropriate screenings, can help catch these cancers before they pose a serious threat to health.
A little knowledge goes a long way
If you suspect something unusual is going on, knowing what to look for can make all the difference. While many changes can be put down to ageing, it is always best to be on the safe side and get checked if you see or feel anything unusual.
Keeping track of how long your symptoms last can be a useful tool when looking out for cancer. The body is very capable of healing itself, so minor ailments like a sore throat or mouth ulcer will usually clear up after around three weeks. But if the symptoms persist, be aware that there might be something more serious going on, and be sure to get checked promptly.3
An important fact that few people are aware of is that around 40 percent of women have dense breasts. This is a naturally occurring variation in some women. Their breasts are made up of less fat tissue, and more connective tissue. This makes it more difficult to detect tumors using conventional mammograms. What’s more, women with dense breasts are up to six times more likely than average to develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.4 This makes early detection, and regular self-checking, all the more essential.
A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) last June reported that deaths from breast cancer could potentially be reduced by 28 percent for women regularly invited for mammography. The report also highlighted the need for better public understanding of the benefits of regular mammograms.
Touch – Look – Check
There is no special technique or training required to check yourself for moles and lumps. The general consensus among healthcare professionals is that you should do what feels most comfortable for you, so long as you do it regularly. British charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer advocates a simple, three-step method for self-checking: touch – can you feel anything unusual? Look – is there any change in shape or texture? Check – go to your doctor for a more thorough examination.5
Knowing your body is arguably the most important step you can take to stay healthy. Diagnostic technologies and screening techniques are constantly improving, but no-one can know the language of your body better than you.
Check back next week, when skin will be our topic of conversation. Your skin is the biggest organ of your body, and with summer in full swing, now is a more important time than ever to make sure you’re keeping it healthy.
Join the conversation on Twitter using #HealthAhead. Read and share tips about self-checking, and pick up the habit this week.