When life gets busy, taking time for your health can slip. We remind you of the life-saving checks you should be doing regularly…
Mole checks: Most moles are normal and healthy, but some can change into melanoma – the name given to cancerous lesions. Like many cancers, detecting changes early can help with survival rates and save lives. Key things to look for when examining your moles are that they are symmetrical, that they are consistent in colour and that they have smooth borders. If you have a mole that is jagged at the edges, varies in colour or has grown over time, consult you GP.
Breast checks: For UK women, breast screening begins aged 47, but it’s important to be breast aware from an early age so that you can detect any changes early and get to know your own body.
This is something you can easily keep on top of at home.
‘First of all, stand facing the mirror, and then raise your arms in the air. Look for any changes in the size or shape of the breast as you do this and any tethering or dimpling of the skin when the arms are raised,’ explains Professor Gordon Wishart of Check4Cancer, who offer screening for various types of cancer.
‘Next lie down flat – on the bed is ideal – and use the flat portion of the right hand to examine the left breast and vice-versa.’
Keep an eye out not only for lumps but also any bleeding from the nipple, pain, or dimpling. If you feel a lump or spot something that isn’t normal for you, see your GP.
Once you reach 47, you’ll also be invited to mammograms through the NHS. Mammograms take X-Rays of the breast and can spot changes in the breast long before you may notice a physical change.
Smear test: Cervical screening aims to detect early changes in the cells of the cervix, which if left untreated can lead to cervical cancer. Smear tests are offered to women aged 25-64 in the UK and you should receive a letter inviting you to screening from your GP. ‘It’s crucial that every woman between 25 and 64 attend their cervical screening appointments religiously,’ says Embarrassing Bodies media medic, Dr. Pixie McKenna.
‘For those who dread or even dodge their smear test, there is an alternative called GynaeCheck,’ she explains. GynaeCheck is a self-screening device which tests for the HPV virus and can be used at home. ‘It’s a well-known fact that the HPV virus is the cause of 99.7% of cervical cancers and detecting it early could mean the difference between life or death. But don’t let this put you off,’ urges Pixie. ‘If cervical cancer is detected early there is up to a 99% chance of survival.’
Eye test: ‘Going for eye examinations should be part of everyone’s healthcare routine,’ explains Dr Nigel Best, Specsavers Clinical spokesperson. ‘It’s recommended you test every two years, even if you think your vision is fine,’ he advises.
An eye examination can identify long or short-sightedness, but it is not only a test of your vision, ‘Eye examinations can also help detect other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, glaucoma, thyroid disease, diabetes and even life-threatening tumours,’ explains Best.
STI checks: ‘Regular and appropriate testing for STIs is crucial as even severe infection can often be symptomless,’ advises Jullien Brady, consultant gynaecologist for GynaeHealth UK. ‘If left untreated, STIs can go on to cause lifelong health problems for women, including infertility,’ warns Brady. ‘But treatment for most sexually transmitted infections is usually very simple with tablet antibiotics,’ he adds. If you do have symptoms such as genital itching, burning or unusual discharge, see your GP and to help prevent the spread of STIs, practice safe sex and use condoms.
Cholesterol checks: High cholesterol levels are one of the risk factors for heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease. You can have your cholesterol checked at your doctors if you are overweight or concerned about heart disease. But if you’d rather do a cholesterol check in your own time, there are many companies that offer cholesterol tests you can do at home for a small fee.