Thursday, 12 February 2015

Dents and dimples

It's simple: the earlier breast cancer is detected the more chance there is of getting rid of it and being able to go on to live a full and healthy life. That's why it's important to be aware of all the signs: it's not just about checking for lumps. I've written previously about nipples. (If you haven't read that post, please read it after you've read this.) This post is about dents and dimples.

Here is a really helpful summary of breast cancer symptoms to look out for taken from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer website.

  • Can you feel a lump? Either in the breast, upper chest or armpits.
  • Is there a lumpy area? Or unusual thickening of the breast tissue that doesn’t go away?
  • Is there any unusual pain? Either in part of the breast or the armpit.


  • Any change in size or shape? For example, one breast might become larger or lower than the other.
  • Any change in skin texture? Such as puckering or dimpling of the skin of the breast.
  • Any change in colour? For example the breast may look red or inflamed.
  • What about the appearance or direction of the nipple? For example, one might become inverted (turned in) when it normally points out.
  • Any unusual discharge? One or both nipples might have a discharge.
  • Any rash or crusting? Of the nipple or surrounding area.


  • Is anything unusual? If so, get it checked out by your doctor as soon as possible.

The last point is a really important one. Is anything unusual? If so, get it checked. Guidance about breast cancer signs and symptoms is always inevitably broad - it's trying to demonstrate that there is a wide range of symptoms that are relevant - not just lumps. This kind of guidance is not giving you an exact list of things to look for and excluding everything else. It is very important to know your own body and get any changes checked out as soon as you notice them.

To illustrate this, one of my friends, another young woman with breast cancer, wants to share the story of the first sign of her breast cancer. Using the categories above, it would sort of fit under "skin texture" but as you'll see, it was more than dimpling or puckering...

"About two weeks before I accidentally found my lump in the shower, I had noticed a line. It ran from directly under the centre of my nipple then in a kind of hooked shape up to my armpit. I'd noticed it but thought that it was caused by my bra.

The day I found my lump it came as a bolt out of the blue. I was having a shower and I thank the soapy suds for finding the lump. (I would urge every woman to have a feel in soapy suds as you can feel so much more.) 

I went to the doctor the very next day. She was kind and reassuring and said it's probably just a fibroadenoma (a non-cancerous condition) but then she spotted the line and asked about it. She made me move in different ways. Some positions made it worse, but it was always there. The tone of the room changed and she referred me for an urgent ultrasound scan. My appointment came through for two weeks later. I had an ultrasound and biopsy.

Between the GP appointment and the ultrasound scan I also developed a thrombosed vein (which was also picked up on ultrasound). It ran from the lump (upper left quadrant of my left breast) and across the top of my nipple. I now know this was my tumour cutting off the blood supply and creating its own, the little fucker! The thrombosed vein felt like a hard line under the skin. It was about 1.5 - 2 inches long and was quite painful. The lump itself felt pear shaped and lumpy - it wasn't round or pea shaped or smooth. I was diagnosed around ten days later with a 17mm invasive ductal carcinoma (tumour). It was that tumour that had made the skin pull inwards in that big line."

WOMEN! Please, get to know your own body, and if you notice any changes, go to your GP. It's a scary thing to think about and a scary thing to do, but if you have breast cancer, the sooner it is diagnosed the better.


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