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About Breasts

The breast is a gland that produces milk in late pregnancy and after childbirth. Breasts are made up of fat and fibrous tissue with glands that enlarge during pregnancy to allow for breast feeding.

What are breasts made up of?

Each breast is made of lobes and each breast has 15 to 20 sections of lobes. Lobes are made up of groups of smaller milk glands called lobules. Lobules are arranged around thin tubes called ducts.

Ducts carry the milk to the nipple, which is centered in a dark area of skin called the areola. The spaces between the lobules and ducts are filled with fat.

Lobules and ducts make up the glandular tissue. There are no muscles at all in the breast, but muscles lie under each breast and cover the ribs.

What is the lymphatic system?

The breasts also contain lymph vessels, which carry a clear fluid called lymph.

The lymph vessels lead to small, round organs called lymph nodes. Groups of lymph nodes are found near the breast in the arm pit, under the arm, above the collarbone, in the chest behind the breast bone, and in many other parts of the body.

See your health care provider about a breast change when you have:

  • A lump in or near your breast or under your arm
  • Thick or firm tissue in or near your breast or under your arm
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness
  • A nipple pulled back into the breast. (Inverted nipple)
  • Itching or skin changes such as redness, scales, dimpling, or puckering of the skin of the breast.
  • A change in breast size or shape.

If you notice a lump in one breast, check the other one. If both breasts feel the same , it may be normal for you. You should however, still see your health care provider or gynecologist for a clinical breast exam to see if more tests are needed. This is regardless of your age. We now know that younger woman can get breast cancer.

Types of Breast Changes

Breast changes occur in almost all women. Most of these changes are not cancerous and they're called benign. Some changes may be a sign of cancer.

Common Breast Changes Include:

  • Lumpiness
  • Breast tenderness and swelling due to your period
  • Single lumps
  • Nipple discharge

Most women have some type of lumpiness or bumpiness in their breasts. Some areas are more dense than others and can feel lumpy during a self-exam. What you are feeling is most often glandular tissue, it is more easily felt in women who have thin fair skin.

Breast Changes Due to Your Period

Many women have breast tenderness, swelling and pain in their breasts before and even during their periods. You might also feel one or more lumps during this time due to extra fluid in your breasts. Sine some lumps are caused by hormonal changes, your health care provider may suggest watching the lump for a month or two to see if it changes or goes away.

Single Lumps

Single lumps can appear at any time and come in various types and sizes. Most lumps are not cancerous, but your health care provider, or gynecologist should always check the lump carefully. She or he may do more tests to make sure the lump is not cancer.

Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge is common for some women. It is fluid that comes from the nipple in different colors or textures. Usually, it is not a sign of cancer, For example, birth control pills and other medications maybe cause a little discharge. Certain infections may also cause discharge. For women who have passed menopause or are going through menopause, nipple discharge can be a sign of cancer.

See your doctor if you have nipple discharge for the first time, or a change in your discharge's color or texture. The discharge can be tested by a laboratory to see what it is.

See Breast Lumps for more information.

Finding Breast Changes

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