October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer found in women, and the second deadliest. About 1 in 8 women born today in the United States will get breast cancer at some point.
The Financial Impact of Breast Cancer
Since 2013, breast cancer has been the number one highest-cost health insurance claim cancer condition. It is the most common type of cancer, and also has the highest overall spend. In 2020, medical expenditures for breast cancer are projected to reach $16.5 billion, more than colorectal cancer ($14 billion), lymphoma ($12 billion), lung cancer ($12 billion) and prostate cancer ($12 billion) according to Sun Life. This cost is related to common breast cancer treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, and injectable drugs.
While most people are aware of breast cancer statistics, many forget to take the preventive steps needed for lowering risk and early detection. Research has shown that prevention and early detection services, such regular mammograms and screenings, are proven methods of decreasing cancer risk among employees and increasing early diagnosis and associated medical care outcomes. Data also suggests that these cancer prevention and early detection strategies are effectively decreasing direct and indirect costs associated with cancer.
By communicating the need for preventive care to employees, employers have the opportunity to lower medical costs should a breast cancer diagnosis be caught in an earlier stage. According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among women aged 18-44 the incremental average monthly cost of treating stage 4 metastatic breast cancer was $4,463 compared to monthly costs of $2,418 for treating stage 1 cancer.
For many employers, reducing cancer expenditures might result in dramatic annual healthcare savings. One study in 2016 published by American Health & Drug Benefits showed that the average total cost in the first year after breast cancer diagnosis was between $60,637 and $134,682, based on early or late stage, respectively. Beyond healthcare costs, employers see an additional impact to their business due to diminished productivity and lost work time for impacted workers.
Experts agree that if more people were to follow screening guidelines as recommended, we would see a marked decline in cancer rates and deaths. However, in order for these interventions to have an impact, people need to have access to resources. This is where employers can help make the biggest difference.
As many employers are rethinking the benefits they provide to their employees, it is more important than ever to include reducing the impact of breast cancer as a part of a company’s health and wellness program.
Education for Early Detection
"Breast cancer screening" means checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease. Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat.
Under the Affordable Care Act, women’s preventive health care – such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care, and other services – generally must be covered with no cost sharing.
By communicating the need for all types of screenings (below) it will help increase employees’ chances of detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage.
Breast Self-Awareness: Breast self-awareness can help women become familiar with how your breasts normally look and feel. Knowing this will help women identify any changes in their breasts that should be reported to a health care professional promptly. If a lump is found, schedule an appointment with a doctor, but don’t panic – most lumps are not cancer.
Well Woman Exam: It is recommended that women visit their family physician or gynecologist each year for a Well-Woman Exam. In addition to a routine pelvic exam and pap smear, the doctor may perform a brief breast exam to check for abnormalities. The Well-Woman Exam is a great opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns regarding breast health with a health care provider.
Mammogram: In its early stages, breast cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms. The National Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women ages 40 and older get a mammogram every year. It is a safe way to detect cancerous tumors and other abnormal breast conditions, and women who have screening mammograms have a lower chance of dying from breast cancer than women who do not have screening mammograms. They provide an effective way to find breast cancer in its early stages when treatment is usually the most successful. Mammograms are considered safe, quick, and relatively painless.
Download Resources: Mammogram 101 Booklet
Education for Prevention
Certain risk factors for breast cancer are unavoidable – like being female, being a certain age, or having a genetic risk. But there are other known risk factors for breast cancer that are related to lifestyle and personal behaviors, such as diet and exercise. There is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, but there are activities employers can promote as part of a health and wellness strategy to help lower breast cancer risk.
Download Resources: Healthy Living & Personal Risk Guide
For more information on how you can implement a preventive care strategy for breast cancer, contact:
Kate Grooms, Chief Engagement Officer, Grooms Benefits
Resource materials from:
National Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Treatment Costs
Comparison of Treatment Costs for Breast Cancer
How Engaging Employees in Preventive Care Can Reduce Healthcare Costs
Report: Sun Life High Cost Claims & Injectable Drugs
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