In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 14, 2020

Kristen Dahlgren Reported on Rare Cancer Symptoms — Then Discovered Her Own

By In the Loop

When NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren came to Mayo Clinic to report on a new study, she thought it was just another routine assignment. Three years later, she credits it with saving her life.


When NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren came to Mayo Clinic to report on a new study on unusual breast cancer symptoms, she thought it was just another "routine assignment," she writes on Today.com. Three years later, Kristen calls it "a story I credit with saving my life."

Back in 2016, Kristen reported that researchers in England found that 1 in 6 breast cancer patients had symptoms other than breast lumps. "What this new study tells us is it's profoundly important to be aware of your breasts, to be familiar with your breasts, even outside of a ritual monthly self-breast exam," Deborah Rhodes, M.D., from Mayo's Breast Diagnostic Clinic told Kristen at the time.

Those words came back to her last year on her 47th birthday. "I was getting ready to meet friends when I caught a glimpse of a slight dent in my right breast. I had never noticed it before," Kristen writes in a December 2019 piece on Today.com. "Beneath the dent, I didn't feel a lump, but something I might describe as a 'thickening.' It just felt different than everywhere else."

Just months earlier, Kristen had had a normal screening mammogram. Still, she knew she needed to "have it checked out." But life — in the form of Hurricane Dorian, which she was covering for NBC — got in the way. "It would have been easy to put my own health aside and focus on work," she writes. "My husband, however, wouldn't let me, and I couldn't get the study about unusual symptoms out of my mind." So as the storm raged, Kristen headed to a local hospital and had a mammogram. "Within days, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer," she writes.

The months since her diagnosis have been "filled with doctor appointments, chemotherapy and yes, tears," she writes. And though she admits the diagnosis "is not easy to talk about," Kristen says she knew immediately that she would share her story. "There is power in knowledge," she writes. "If I hadn't done that story, I might have ignored the change in my breast."

Recently, Kristen returned to Mayo Clinic to pay a visit to Dr. Rhodes. "After collapsing in her arms in a puddle of tears and gratitude, we talked about what we want other women to know," Kristen writes. That includes those "unusual symptoms" that she reported on back in 2016. According to Dr. Rhodes, they include:

  • A dimple
  • Change to the contour of the breast
  • Any discharge
  • Redness
  • Itching and swelling

"If someone see this and notices a change in their breast and goes and gets it checked out, if one person is saved by that, then that makes it worth it to share my struggle," Kristen tells Today. "If that story saved my life, then maybe it can save someone else's."

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Tags: Breast Cancer, Breast Clinic, Dr. Deborah Rhodes, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Patient Stories

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