How to Take Responsibility for Your Sexual Health
Both men and women should make sexual health exams apart of their general health routine. Some exams can be done at home, while others require a visit to your gynecologist (women) or urologist (men). As always, if you notice anything that concerns you, don't wait for your annual appointment. Contact your doctor's office about any suspicious findings.
- Make an annual appointment with your physician for a complete gynecological exam. Some women think if they have had a complete hysterectomy (removal of uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries) that this exam is unnecessary--not true. Cancer can still occur in the remaining structures or (rarely) remnants of ovarian tissue.
- Regular breast self examination and regular visits to the doctor for mammography and physical examination (for Pap smear and bi-manual pelvic exam) many lead to early detection and treatment of breast cancer or other cancer.
- Conducting your BSE (breast self examination):
A breast self examination is something that all women can do to notice any changes in her breasts. It provides one of the best ways for early detection of breast cancer. Getting familiar with the size, shape, texture and general appearance of your normal breasts is important. Some women naturally have "lumpier" breasts than others. Examine your breasts about two or three days after your period or (if no longer menstruating) at about the same time each month.
The following instructions are based on the American Cancer Society guidelines. You can obtain additional material by calling the American Cancer Society toll free: (800)ACS-2345.
- In the shower: Hands glide more easily over soapy wet skin. Use alternate hand to examine each breast. Check for any lump, hard knot, thickening, or abnormalities.
- In front of a mirror: Look at your breasts. Inspect them with your arms at your sides and with arms over your head. Look for changes in contour, swelling, dimpling of skin, changes in nipples, or clear or bloody discharge from nipples. If you notice changes, call your doctor immediately.
- Lying down: With opposite arm behind your head, press gently with your finger pads in small circular motions around an imaginary clock face. Keep circling until you've examined every part of your breast including the nipple. Repeat on the other breast. Squeeze nipple gently looking for discharge.
- Make certain to also examine breasts sitting up. Include the breast tissue leading to the underarm area.
In addition to BSE, women over 40 (check with your physician for the appropriate age for YOU) should get a mammogram each year. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can show changes in breast tissue. If a breast density is located, your physician may suggest follow up procedures to determine if it is malignant (cancerous). Not all lumps are cancerous, but biopsy is the only way to be certain.
- Most men don't think about the importance of regular exams to detect abnormalities in their penis, testicles, or prostate. All men should have yearly physical exams. If you notice an unusual or foul smelling discharge, bleeding or pain during urination or ejaculation, or any lump or thickening of the testicles, see a doctor immediately.
- Testicular Self-Exam (TSE) is a simple painless way to find STDs and testicular cancer which can be a curable disease if discovered in the early stages. Testicular cancer is a young man's disease typically found in males ages from puberty to 34. Women, encourage your husbands and sons to start routine TSE early and continue them regularly each month.
- Testicular Self Exam:
- Perform monthly starting at puberty.
- Perform when you feel relaxed (perhaps after you've had a shower or after you've had sexual intercourse).
- Get familiar with the normal texture, shape, and appearance of your genitals. Roll each testicle between your thumb and finger. Inside your scrotum is an area called the epididymis, which is set at the back of the testes. It is lumpy and it is a natural structure that you should become familiar with.
- If you feel anything unusual, especially a firm lump, it's time to check this out with your doctor.
An annual visit to the physician for a physical examination and prostate exam is important for the sexual health of every man.
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