SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Good Things Utah) – Nationwide, more than 40,000 women annually die from breast cancer. In 2020 (the most recent year of complete data), there were 1,700 new diagnosed cases in Utah alone.

Like most cancers, there is no way to completely prevent contracting the disease, but early detection, through screening, can catch it early – which makes it easier for your doctor to treat. Unfortunately, some studies indicate that women in Utah are screened for breast cancer at a rate 7% lower than the recommended average.

Signs and symptoms

Especially in the early stages, breast cancer is often painless and symptom-free, which adds to the importance of screening, and finding potential issues before they fully present. When symptoms do present, they can vary, and may include:
• Changes in the size or shape of the breast
• Thickening or swelling in the area, along with pain or soreness
• Redness or flakiness of the skin on or around the breast

Melissa Ludwig, Optum Utah’s Director of Advanced Practice Clinicians, notes, though, that having any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. “That’s why it’s important to be aware of your personal risk factors, and keep an open line of communication with your doctor.”

Risk factors

And what are those risk factors? They can be roughly divided into two categories: Those you can control, and those you can’t.
Age and family or personal history of cancer are risk factors you can’t control, and all can increase your risk of contracting breast cancer. And while breast cancer can sometimes develop without the presence of any risk factors at all, the most commonly present risk factors are aging and being a woman.

As for risk factors you can control: Research does suggest that a lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol use, and smoking may all increase your risk.

Aside from doing your best to avoid some of the possible risk factors, Ludwig stresses that catching a potential breast cancer diagnoses early is the best way to encourage positive treatment outcomes. “As with most serious conditions, early detection can make treatment easier.”

The United States Preventative Task Force recommends women ages 50-74 who are at average risk get a mammogram every two years. Those between 40 and 49 years of age should talk to their doctor about when to start getting screened, and how often to get screened.

Finding breast cancer early may also have financial benefits, as well. Cancer overall is one of the mostly costly conditions to treat, with breast cancer treatment specifically carrying the highest cancer treatment cost. Nationwide, breast cancer treatment costs in American approach $30 billion annually.

Treatment options

Breast cancer has several different treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone treatments. Your suggested course will depend on a variety of factors, including the stage your cancer is in and other individual circumstances and factors.

“Deciding on the possible treatment course that’s right for you can be a tough, personal decision. The best advice is to talk it over with your doctor,” Ludwig says.

Visit Optum.com/Utah for more information and resources.

Sponsored by Optum.