How do I check for cancer?
- It’s good to be aware of how your body usually looks and feels, but there’s no need to check yourself at a set time or in a set way
- Take charge and speak to your doctor if you notice anything’s that’s not normal for you
- Spotting cancer at an early stage can save lives
This page explains our evidence-based views on self-checking for cancer. We know that this information may be surprising for some people. But the best research shows that there’s no special time or way that you need to check your body.
We cover breasts and testicles in more detail on this page because these are the most talked about body parts when it comes to self-checking.
What should I look for?
You know your body best. If you notice anything that’s unusual for you, or won’t go away, make an appointment to speak to your doctor.
It’s not possible to know all the different signs and symptoms of cancer, and it’s not your job to know what’s wrong. So the best thing you can do is to tell your doctor if you notice anything that’s not normal for you. In most cases it won’t be cancer – but if it is, spotting it early can make a real difference.
Symptoms that are difficult to see or touch
Some common cancer symptoms are easy to see. But others can happen inside your body or be a change to how your body works. These changes can be more difficult to spot or describe. But being aware of how you usually feel can help you notice when something’s different.
It might be a cough that lasts for a few weeks, a change in your poo, heartburn that keeps coming back or any other change that isn’t normal for you. But whatever the symptom is, when something doesn’t feel quite right – don’t ignore it. Take charge and speak to your doctor.
And it’s important not to put any unusual changes, aches or pains down to ‘just getting older’ or assume something is part of another health condition. If it’s not normal for you, get it checked out.
How do I self-check for cancer?
Lots of people talk about doing ‘self-checks’ (also known as self-examinations or self-exams), to try and spot cancer early.
It’s good to be aware of what your body is normally like, so it’s easier to notice if anything changes. But there’s no good evidence to suggest that regularly self-checking any part of your body in a set time or set way is helpful. It can actually do more harm than good, by picking up things which wouldn’t have gone on to cause you problems.
Self-checking is different to cancer screening – read more about screening for cancer.
Should I check my breasts?
It is good to be breast aware. This means getting to know what your breasts usually look and feel like, so you know what’s normal for you. This includes knowing what your breasts are like at different times of the month.
But there is no need to worry about regularly checking your breasts at a set time or in a set way. Research has shown that women who regularly self-check their breasts aren’t any less likely to die from breast cancer. But they are almost twice as likely to have an unnecessary test (biopsy) on a lump that turns out not to be cancer.
Remember, it’s still important to listen to your body and tell your doctor if you’ve noticed any unusual lumps or other changes that aren’t normal for you. Whether it’s your breasts, nipples or any other body part, if something’s not quite right, get it checked out.
You can read more about breast changes to look out for on our signs and symptoms page.
Should I check my testicles?
It’s a good idea to know what your testicles usually look and feel like, and to be aware of their normal size and weight. This can make it easier to spot unusual changes, which you should always let your doctor know about.
But there’s no need to worry about regularly self-checking at a set time or in a set way. There is no good evidence that it's beneficial. And regular self-checks can lead to unnecessary tests and anxiety if lumps are found that are harmless or turn out not be cancer.
Read more about finding testicular cancer early and when to see your doctor.