5 essential self-examinations every woman should be performing

1. BREASTS

According to the Breast Cancer Foundation Singapore, the best time for your monthly breast self-examination is seven to 10 days after your period starts, when your boobs feel least tender.

Dr Christopher Ng, medical director of GynaeMD Women's & Rejuvenation Clinic, recommends following this guide from the American Cancer Society.

TIME TAKEN 15 minutes

1 Lie down so that the breast tissue spreads evenly over the chest. Raise your right arm above your head.

2 In a small, overlapping circular motion, use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right boob.

3 Apply three levels of pressure: light for the tissue closest to the skin; medium to feel deeper; and firm for the tissue closest to the chest and ribs. Use each level to feel one spot before moving on.

4 Move around the breast in an up-and-down pattern. Go down until you feel only ribs, up to the neck or collarbone, and out to the underarm and middle of the chest. Studies suggest that this pattern is the most effective for covering the entire area without missing any tissue.

5 Repeat the exam on your left breast with your right hand.

YOU'RE LOOKING OUT FOR...

Lumps that may be cancerous. Alert your gynae if you feel a lump, however small it is.

2. NECK

Located at the base of your neck (below the Adam's apple and above the collarbone), the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate many organs including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin.

Check your thyroid with these tips from Dr Kevin Tan, vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore.

TIME TAKEN 3 minutes

1 Take a mouthful of water and stand before a mirror.

2 While focusing on your thyroid, tip your head back slightly and swallow. Your gland will move up and down with the gulp. Observe your neck for bulges. Repeat this several times.

YOU'RE LOOKING OUT FOR... Abnormal protrusions. See your doctor if you spot one. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or nodule, which should be checked for cancerous growths.

3. EYELIDS

Lumps on the skin around your eyes may signal poor health elsewhere.

Look in the mirror and scrutinise the skin of the upper and lower eyelids for flat, yellowish plaques (bumps), particularly near the inner corners, says Dr Natasha Lim, medical director and refractive surgeon at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre.

TIME TAKEN <1 minute

YOU'RE LOOKING OUT FOR... Xanthelasma, small fatty deposits in the skin which may be associated with high cholesterol. If you spot any suspicious bumps, get your blood tested.

4. YOUR UPPER LIP, BELLY AND LIMBS

Getting fuzzier? Beware: It could be a case of hirsutism, excessive facial and body hair growth that results from abnormally high levels of the male hormone testosterone.

TIME TAKEN <1 minute

YOU'RE LOOKING OUT FOR... Hair sprouting on unusual spots could indicate Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), where ovaries are enlarged and lined with numerous cysts.

It's the most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age (20s to 40s), says Dr Ng.

PCOS usually causes mild hirsutism, while moderate or severe hirsutism could suggest something more serious, adds Dr Tan Thiam Chye, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at KK Women's and Children's Hospital. Consult your doctor to be sure.

5. SKIN

"Check your skin every six months for new lesions (abnormalities in tissue) or changing moles," says Dr Lim.

Examine your eyelids, face, ears, neck, chest and back as these areas get the most sun exposure (UV radiation triggers cell mutation).

Look out for lumps or discoloured patches of skin that don't go away. The former are usually pearly white or waxy-looking and may contain tiny, visible blood vessels.

The latter tend to be flat and scaly and can be flesh-coloured or brown, says Dr Lim.

Also be wary of any bump that enlarges over weeks or months, adds Dr Cheong Lai Leng, consultant dermatologist at LL Cheong Skin & Laser Clinic.

TIME TAKEN <1 minute

YOU'RE LOOKING OUT FOR...

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common form of skin cancer. It is slow growing and usually doens't spread to other organs.

At first glance, BCC may resemble a mole but it's slightly different upon closer inspection. Consult a doctor if a spot on your skin looks suspicious.

This article was originally published in Simply Her April 2015.

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