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A woman getting a breast exam

Lumps in the breast are often the most common sign that women check for when performing self-breast exams but a lesser-known symptom of breast cancer is dimpling of the breast. Dr. Susan Hoover, a surgical oncologist in the Breast Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, answers five questions about breast dimpling and the risk of breast cancer.

1. How common is dimpling as a sign of breast cancer?  

Skin dimpling overlying a tumor/cancer growing in the breast can be a presentation of breast cancer, especially if the lump is growing closer to the overlying skin.

2. Why does this happen? 

When a cancer grows within the breast, it distorts the normal architecture of the breast tissue, which can then distort the look of the overlying breast skin.  In cases of a rare form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, the skin can appear dimpled as well, which is a different process.  In this rare form of breast cancer, the tumor cells obstruct or block the lymphatic channels that run through the breast skin and result in the breast skin looking dimpled similar to the appearance of the skin of an orange, known as peau d’orange. 

3. Why might breast dimpling be the only breast cancer symptom people experience? 

It may not be the only symptom necessarily but certainly the most obvious as the dimpling is often the first thing we notice with our eyes in the mirror after getting out of the shower or while doing a self-breast exam. This speaks to the importance of not only self-breast examination but also to the “inspection” portion of that exam. Women should always start the self-exam with inspection of their breasts in the mirror, looking for any skin changes, including dimpling, or changes in the size of the breasts compared to each other, symmetry (“even-ness”) of the breasts.

4. What does it mean if someone has breast dimpling vs. a lump? (Is it indicative of a particular form of breast cancer? If so, which one?)  

Both dimpling and lumps can be signs of breast cancer, although there are benign, non-cancerous issues that can present with skin changes or a lump.  Breast dimpling versus a lump does not necessarily indicate a particular form of breast cancer, but it is best to see one’s healthcare provider to evaluate the symptoms/signs to help make an accurate diagnosis.

5. What should someone do if they experience breast dimpling? 

Any changes of the breast, including dimpling, should immediately be brought to the attention of one’s healthcare professional for a thorough examination.

For more information about breast cancer or to discuss screening with an expert oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center, you can call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. You do not need a referral.