Breast Cancer FAQs

Answers to questions you might have about qualifying for the program, getting screened for breast cancer, and what to do if you have breast cancer.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that forms in the breast. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Utah.

Regular screening can find breast cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment works best. The most important thing women can do is have regular breast cancer screenings.

Who gets breast cancer?

All women can get breast cancer. Although the causes of breast cancer are still unknown, there are some factors that may increase a woman’s chances of getting the disease:

  • Getting older – Most women are diagnosed when they are 50 years of age or older
  • Having a first menstrual period at a young age (younger than 12 years)
  • Starting menopause at an older age (older than 55 years)
  • Never giving birth, or giving birth to a first child after age 30
  • Not breastfeeding
  • Having had breast cancer or some non-cancerous breast diseases
  • Having a close family member (parent, sibling, child) who has had breast cancer, especially at an early age
  • Having certain gene mutations such as BRCA 1 or BRCA 2
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation to the chest area early in life
  • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy

Even if women have one or more of these risk factors, it does not mean they will get breast cancer. Also, many women who get breast cancer do not have any risk factors. This is why screening is important for all women.

Women with a personal or family history (close family relative) of breast cancer may want to consider genetic counseling to find out if they are at greater risk for getting the disease.

While very rare, it is possible for men to get breast cancer.

What are the symptoms of breast cancer?

The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A mass that is painless, hard, and has irregular edges is more likely to be cancerous, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. It is important that any new mass, lump, or change in your breast be checked by a health care provider.

Other possible signs of breast cancer that should be checked by a health care provider include:

  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (when the nipple turns inward)
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk

Sometimes breast cancer can spread to underarm lymph nodes and cause a lump or swelling there, even before a tumor in the breast tissue is large enough to be felt. You should tell your health care provider about any swelling in your lymph nodes.

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How can I lower my changes of getting breast cancer?

Research is being done on ways to prevent breast cancer. Although there is no known way to completely prevent breast cancer, there are ways to lower your risk. These include:

  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Breastfeeding (exclusively breast feeding during your baby’s first 6 months, and continuing for 12 months or longer)
  • Talking to your health care provider about hormone replacement therapy, if you take it

Regular check-ups and screening tests can find breast cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment works best. The most important action women can take is to have routine breast cancer screenings.

How can I get a breast cancer screening?

Free breast cancer screening is available for those who are eligible through the Utah Breast & Cervical Cancer Program. You may be eligible if you:

  • have moderate income at or below 250% Federal Poverty Level
  • are uninsured or underinsured
  • live in Utah or a border town with limited access to screening
  • are between the ages of 40-64
  • are age 65 or older and do not have Medicare B.

If you have insurance, your health plan must cover cancer screenings at no cost. You may contact your health plan directly to see if your insurance covers cancer screenings.