8 Self-Exams

A two minute drill can win a game. And it can save a life. There are eight self-exams that men can perform at home, in minutes, that can help uncover things like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. And there are many other screenings that can be performed with a Bellin Health physician to help you defend against even more.


For men, waist management is more important than weight management. The American Dietetic Association says “Measuring the fat around your belly could be the most important self-exam for most men.” Belly fat produces hormones that increase men's risk for heart disease, some cancers, sleep apnea, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

To perform this self-exam:

  • Bring the tape measure around your back — over your bare skin — at belly button level. Don’t hold the tape measure too tight or loose.
  • If you measure more than 37 inches, you’re at risk.
  • If you need to lose some inches, ask your doctor about the best plan to attack belly fat.
  • Repeat this exam about once a month.


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. Data from the Center for Disease Control show that as many as 89 percent of sudden cardiac events occur in men. The American Heart Association says taking your pulse is one tool to help you get a picture of your health.

To perform this test:

  • Assume a resting position and place the first two fingers of one hand on the area at the base of the wrist on your other hand.
  • Count your pulse – or number of beats -- for sixty seconds.
  • Your normal heart rate should be between 60 and 80 beats per minute. Anything higher than 80 bpm could signal potential cardiovascular problems and you should notify your doctor.
  • Repeat this self-exam at least once every month.


The American Heart Association says that high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health consequences. To check your blood pressure, pick up a monitor at your local pharmacy or head to your doctor’s office for an official reading. During a reading, there are two numbers to pay attention to. They are:

  • Systolic: The top, higher number that measures pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. This number shouldn’t read any higher than 120.
  • Diastolic: The bottom, lower number that measures pressure in the arteries between beats. This number shouldn’t read any higher than 80.
  • If your numbers are higher than 120/80, you should notify your physician immediately.


According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 270 men will get testicular cancer. Even though it’s one of the “most curable forms of cancer”, the earlier you find it, the better your prognosis is likely to be. The best time to do the self-exam is in your morning shower, when the skin of your scrotum is relaxed. To do a testicular self-exam:

  • Hold your penis out of the way and check one testicle at a time.
  • Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers of both hands and roll it gently between your fingers.
  • Look and feel for any hard lumps or smooth rounded bumps or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testicles.
  • If you find something unusual or something you’re not sure about, see your doctor right away.


Oral Health encompasses a wide range of conditions -- from cavities to oral cancer. The American Dental Society says you should be performing an oral check each month. This is done by opening your mouth wide, running a finger around your tongue, gums and teeth, and searching for any abnormalities. These are some signs and symptoms you should pay attention to:

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Bleeding or sore gums
  • Mouth sores or lumps that don’t heal
  • Red or white patches in your mouth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Jaw pain or lockjaw
  • Cracked, broken teeth

Always let your physician know your findings and check your symptoms here.


Gum disease is an infection of the tissues around your teeth and it’s a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it. To perform a self-exam:

  • Every time you brush your teeth, look for swollen, painful, bleeding gums or loose teeth.
  • Check for a receding gum line, or gums that have pulled away from the teeth.
  • Look for any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite.
  • It’s better to treat gum disease early, so head to your dentist if you notice any of these signs or symptoms in your next oral self-exam.


Once a month, you should do a total body self-exam to look for new or changing moles, blemishes, or freckles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, men are twice as likely as women to have basal cell cancers and three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers — but they're less likely to do monthly self-exams. To do a self-check for skin cancer, examine all areas, including your palms and soles, scalp, ears, nails, and your back and know your ABCDE’s of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: If you draw a line through your mole, the two halves don’t match.
  • Border: The border on your mole is uneven.
  • Color: your mole shouldn’t have multiple colors.
  • Diameter: your mole shouldn’t exceed the size of a pencil eraser.
  • Evolving: Any change in size, shape, color, or elevation -- or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.


Yes, men can get breast cancer – but unfortunately, they can’t get mammograms. So, breast self-exams are a necessity if you’re over the age of 60. The American Cancer Society says to perform a breast self-exam, or BSE, you should:

  • Start in the shower or bath.
  • Check your breast and nipples for any discharge, puckering, or retraction.
  • Take note of any asymmetry or skin changes in your breasts.
  • If you feel any lumps or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, see your doctor immediately.