By Sarah Garcia
NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren never imagined a story she covered on lesser-known symptoms of breast cancer would eventually save her life. Although many women are alerted to breast cancer by a lump, she was reporting on a study about other signs – including dents, dimpling, nipple changes, pain or redness – that could indicate breast cancer.
Three years later in 2019, Dahlgren said she was getting dressed and noticed a “slight dent” in her right breast. It was one the lesser-known symptoms she’d reported on back in 2016.
“Breast cancer was the last thing on my mind,” she said on Today. “I’m in my forties, I’m active, we don’t have a family history. Most importantly, I had just had a screening mammogram that was negative back in April.”
Dahlgren said she didn’t feel a lump beneath the dent but something she “might describe as a ‘thickening.’” “It just felt different than everywhere else,” she added.
She went in for a mammogram and was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and is actively undergoing treatment.
According to Dr. Susan Hoover, a breast surgical oncologist in Moffitt Cancer Center’s Breast Oncology Program, a lump in the breast can distort not only the normal shape of the breast but also the overlying skin, which presents as dimpling of the breast skin.
Sometimes, breast cancer can have no obvious signs at all, Hoover said. “It’s frequently picked up only on breast imaging like mammogram, ultrasound or breast MRI.” “That said, it is still very important for women to have a general awareness of their breasts in terms of how the breasts look and feel on self-breast exam.”
When inspecting the breast, there are three general things Hoover said women should look for. Any of the following changes should be brought to the attention of a healthcare professional:
Lumps can be an obvious area in the breast that stands out either when looking at the breast or examining the breast. Some lumps are more of a thickening of the breast tissue as compared to the softer areas within the breast. Asymmetry, or unevenness of the breast, is also a reportable abnormality.
- Redness/rash on the breast skin
- Thickening of the breast skin
- Puckering or dimpling of the breast skin
- Inversion (pulling inward) of the nipple in women with nipples that are usually everted, or pointing outward
- Discharge or bleeding
Early detection of breast cancer saves lives. It is recommended that women starting at the age of 40 receive an annual screening mammogram and all women perform regular, monthly self breast exams to familiarize themselves with their breasts and promptly recognize any changes that may indicate cancer. Any of the above symptoms that persist or are new should be reported.