The anatomy of the female breast is complex and intricate. The inner part of the breast consists of milk ducts, lobes, lobules, lymph nodes, and blood vessels, and the outer part consists of the nipple and areola.
The main function of the female breast is to produce breast milk and to breastfeed the baby. This article will review breast anatomy, their purpose and function, and medical conditions that can affect them.
What are breasts made of?
Female breasts are made up of many types of tissue, including:
- Glands: Contains lobules and lobules that produce breast milk
- Adipose (adipose tissue): responsible for breast size
- Connective (or fibrous): Holds glandular and fatty breast tissue in place
What are dense breasts?
The nipple is located in the center of the breast, surrounded by the areola. Each nipple contains milk duct openings through which breast milk flows.
The nipples are held upright by small, smooth muscles that respond to signals from your autonomic nervous system. Nipple erections can be caused by hypothermia or irritation.
conditions affecting the nipple
Paget disease of the nipple is a rare form of breast cancer that accounts for less than 5% of breast cancer cases. In this condition, cancer cells typically travel from the milk ducts and spread to the surface of the nipple and areola, causing them to become itchy, red, and scaly.
Around the nipple is the areola, an area of skin that is darker than the rest of the breast. The areola can be small or large, round or oval. The diameter of the areola usually increases during pregnancy and may remain larger (and sometimes darker) even after pregnancy.
Small bumps on areola. These are either Montgomery glands or hair follicles.
Conditions affecting the areola
Notify your healthcare provider if you notice any changes in your areola, such as dimples, folds, or a rash. These may be harmless, but they can also be symptoms of Paget’s disease.
Tenderness or lumps under the areola can also be a symptom of a subareolar abscess, cancer, or a noncancerous infection that may require drainage.
Montgomery glands are small glands located just below the surface of the areola and look like small bumps on the skin. Also called areola glands, they provide lubrication during breastfeeding and have a scent that draws the baby to the breast.
Conditions Affecting Montgomery’s Glands
The Montgomery gland may become blocked and swollen like a pimple. Cysts may form under blocked glands. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s not a sign of breast cancer.
Each breast has 15 to 20 leaflets, which contain clusters of leaflets that produce breast milk. Each leaf has 20 to 40 leaflets.
Conditions Affecting Leaves
Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) accounts for 10% of breast cancers. ILCs start in the lobules of the breast and invade surrounding tissue. The ILC feels like a thick or full area that feels different from the rest of the breast.
Noncancerous conditions that can affect the lungs and lobules are lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH). These are made up of abnormal cells. While they themselves don’t cause cancer, having them can increase your risk of developing breast cancer in the future.
Glandular tissue includes the lobules that produce breast milk and the ducts that carry milk to the nipple.
Milk ducts are small tubes that carry milk from the mammary glands (the lobules in the breast) to the tips of the nipples.
Breast milk is released from tiny openings on the surface of the nipple. There are usually two or three of these holes in the center of the nipple, and three to five more around the center. These holes have tiny sphincter muscles (valves) that close to prevent leakage when not breastfeeding.
The ducts under the areola widen before entering the nipple. This broad sac-like area is called the ampulla.
Conditions that affect milk ducts
Invasive ductal carcinoma originates in the milk ducts; it is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for 80% of cases. Ductal carcinoma in situ also originates in the ducts and is a non-invasive form of ductal carcinoma.
During breastfeeding, milk ducts can become blocked, leading to an infection called mastitis. Mastitis can be very uncomfortable, but usually responds well to heat and antibiotics.
The internal mammary artery, which runs under the main breast tissue, is the main source of blood supply to the breast. The blood supply provides oxygen and nutrients to the breast tissue.Other blood vessels include thoracic shoulder Arteries, lateral thoracic arteries, and capillaries and veins.
conditions that affect blood vessels
During a nipple-sparing mastectomy, the surgeon may temporarily remove and then replace the nipple to remove any breast cells that may contain cancer. However, this can damage the tiny blood vessels, causing the nipple to fall off later. Maintaining blood supply to the nipple helps keep these tissues alive after a mastectomy.
Lymphatic vessels carry lymph fluid, which helps your body’s immune system fight infection. Lymphatic vessels connect to lymph nodes in the armpit, chest, and other parts of the body.
Conditions that affect lymphatic vessels
A rare but aggressive type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) occurs when cancer cells block lymphatic vessels in the skin, causing inflammation of the breast. Symptoms of IBC include sunken or thickened skin on the breast, and it may look and feel like an orange peel. Other symptoms include breast swelling, itching, and red or purple breast skin.
The lymphatic system of the breast plays an important role in the overall diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Cancer cells can enter lymph nodes through lymphatic vessels, travel in the bloodstream, and then spread to other organs, leading to metastasis.
The breast contains a network of nerves, with many sensitive nerve endings found in the areola and nipple. These nerves make the breast sensitive to touch, cold, and nursing a baby. When a baby starts breastfeeding, it stimulates nerves to release milk from the milk ducts. This is called the “relaxation reflex” and causes a tingling sensation.
conditions that affect nerves
Sometimes after a mastectomy, when the entire breast is removed, there may be residual nerve pain or discomfort, called postmastectomy pain syndrome. This can cause numbness or tingling in the chest wall and occurs due to nerve changes that occur after surgery.
Muscles and Ligaments
The breasts sit on top of the pectoral muscles, which extend from the sternum up the collarbone and into the armpits. Their main purpose is to control the movement of the arms and shoulders, but they are also attached to the breasts.
The breast itself does not contain any muscles. Instead, they are supported by a frame of bands of fibrous tissue called Cooper’s ligaments, which form a “hammock” in which the breast tissue maintains its shape. These ligaments run through the entire breast from the collarbone and chest wall to the areola. The ligaments can stretch over time, causing the breasts to sag.
Conditions affecting muscles and ligaments
Mastalgia is a term for breast pain, which can have many causes. One of the things that can happen is referred pain, which feels like breast pain but is actually caused by inflammation or an injury to the chest wall of the muscle beneath the breast. Another cause of breast pain can be pain in the breast ligaments when stretched.
Hair follicles are present in the outer breast, usually on the surface of the areola. Due to these follicles, it is not uncommon for a few hairs to grow on the areola or breast skin.
Conditions that affect hair follicles
A condition called folliculitis may develop in the hair follicles. With folliculitis, the follicles around the hair become inflamed and may be red, swollen, and painful. A boil can form if the infection in the inflamed hair follicle goes deep to the surface.
The breast contains many structures that are important to support its purpose (milk production). Understanding its anatomy and its function can be important information, especially if someone is interested in breastfeeding. It’s also important to be familiar with your breasts so you can determine what’s normal for you and what’s not.
The female breast is a complex organ. Many conditions can affect various structures of the breast. When something doesn’t look normal, people often worry that it’s caused by cancer. However, more often this is not the case.
If you are concerned about any changes in how your breasts look or feel, contact your healthcare provider for an evaluation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are breasts part of the reproductive system?
Although breasts are not reproductive organs, they play an important role in reproductive health because they produce milk to nourish the baby.
Which part of the breast hurts in early pregnancy?
During early pregnancy, the entire breast may be uncomfortable. The skin, milk lobes, and nipples can all be uncomfortable as hormones are changing the breasts and preparing them for milk production. As breast size increases, the ligaments in the breast stretch and may be painful.