When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is key. As of now, regular mammograms, doctor’s visits, educating yourself about breast cancer symptoms, and self-exams are the most efficient methods for detecting breast cancer in the early stages.
But, while a lump is the most common breast cancer symptoms, there are several other symptoms that every woman should be aware of—and NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren wants women to be aware of them, since that same information helped her own breast cancer diagnosis.
Dahlgren is currently battling stage 2 breast cancer, and in a new essay for Today, the 47-year-old shares her own diagnosis story, revealing that her breast cancer manifested itself in one of the more unusual symptoms: a dent in her right breast.
In the essay, Dahlgren explains that in 2016 she was sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to report on a story about a woman who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, after she had noticed subtle changes in her breast. She explained that a research study from the UK had found that while lumps were the most common symptom of breast cancer, about one in six women diagnosed experience other symptoms, including nipple changes, dents, dimples, pain or redness.
"It's profoundly important to be aware of your breasts," Deborah Rhodes, MD, an internist with Mayo Breast Diagnostic Clinic, told her at the time.
“I remember thinking that the story would save lives,” Dahlgren writes. “I had no idea the life it would save would be my own.”
In April 2019, Dahlgren, who has no family history of breast cancer, underwent a mammogram, and the result was negative. However, in late July, on her 47th birthday, she noticed a slight dent in her right breast.
“I had never noticed it before. I wasn't great about regular self exams, but this time I paid attention,” she wrote. “Beneath the dent, I didn't feel a lump, but something I might describe as a ‘thickening.’ It just felt different than everywhere else. I knew I needed to have it checked out, but life got busy.”
Days later she underwent a breast screening at a local hospital in North Carolina where she was on location and underwent a mammogram and ultrasound.
“Within days, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer,” she continues.
“Since then, my life has been filled with doctor appointments, chemotherapy and, yes, tears. In my darkest moments, I ask, ‘Why?’ though I try not to dwell on that. I have too much to do.”
While she explains that it is “not easy to talk about,” she felt it was necessary to share her story, because “there is power in knowledge,” and that if she didn’t report on the breast cancer story, she may have ignored the change in her breast and “might have assumed a mammogram would have picked up cancer.”
She also points out that mammograms are only “87% effective and are less sensitive” in women who have dense breast tissue such as herself. “I might not have gotten another mammogram for a while,” she points out. “I hate to admit it, but I had let years go between screenings in the past.”
During a recent visit at the Mayo clinic, Dr. Rhodes shared some important information with her. "In almost every case of a patient who has found her own breast cancer, she will tell me a similar story … 'I didn't exactly know what I was looking for, but when I noticed it, I knew it was important,'" she explained.
According to Dr. Rhodes, those symptoms to look out for include changes to the contour of the breast, dimpling, any discharge, redness, itching, and swelling.
Dahlgren concludes her important essay with a positive outlook on her future. “I am doing well now,” she writes. “I have amazing and optimistic doctors and more support than I ever knew. I have a friend, a breast cancer survivor herself, who comes to every chemo with me. My parents drive 10 hours every other week to help out and my husband has been my absolute rock.”
“I end 2019 full of gratitude, knowing there is a long road ahead, but hopeful that sharing my story might make a difference for someone else.”
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