The breast is the tissue found on both sides of the chest, overlying the pectoral muscles and protected by ligaments and connective tissues. Both men and women have breasts, which develop before birth. However, women have significantly more breast tissue than men that is anatomically different and constantly exposed to growth-stimulating hormones particularly during childbearing years.

A healthy female breast is composed of 15-20 sections called lobes, which are made up of several smaller lobules or mammary glands that are responsible for producing milk in nursing women. Both lobes and lobules are connected to the milk ducts, which main function is to carry milk to the nipples.

In the middle front part of the breast is the areola, a circular pigmented skin that surrounds the nipple. It contains several openings arranged radially around the tip of the nipple where the milk is released during lactation.

The breast also has a network of blood and lymph vessels, which are part of the lymphatic system, the one in-charge of fighting infections.

Common Breast Problems/Conditions

  • Fibroadenomas – Common in women in their 20s and 30s, these are benign tumors or fibrous tissue growth in the breasts. They are usually not painful, easily moveable under the skin, and typically grow in size during pregnancy. They can be left in place or surgically removed depending on various factors including the patient's risk of developing breast cancer later in life.

  • Breast cysts – These are lumps that develop in breast tissues when fluid accumulates inside the breast's glands. They may vary in size as the menstrual cycle changes, are sometimes painful, and may appear or disappear spontaneously. These are commonly benign or non-cancerous.

  • Benign fibrocystic disease - A condition marked by the presence of painful lumps in the breasts. Although they are generally not dangerous, they make the process of diagnosing breast cancer more challenging during breast exams.

  • Abnormal nipple discharge - Usually linked to breastfeeding, pregnancy or duct papilloma (wart-like growth in the breast duct), this condition is characterized by bloodstained, pus-containing or watery discharge in the nipple. This can be caused by a lot of factors including breast infection, breast cancer, or injury to the breast.

  • Breast inflammation (mastitis) - Often caused by an infection (usually during breastfeeding), this condition is characterized by pain and lumpiness in the breast due to inflammation and blocked breast ducts.

  • Breast pain (mastalgia) - Breast pain is common and often linked to menstrual cycles, pregnancy, childbirth (as the body prepares for lactation), and menopause. Although the majority of cases resolve on their own without medication, severe or persistent breast pain require medical attention.

  • Breast cancer – Recognized as the most invasive cancer in females worldwide, this condition starts when cells in the breast begin to multiply uncontrollably. Breast cancer may begin in lobules (lobular carcinoma) or milk ducts (ductal carcinoma) and can eventually spread to surrounding lymph nodes.

Common Breast Procedures and Surgeries

  • Mammography - This procedure uses imaging technology to diagnose and locate tumors of the breast. It can also be performed as part of preventative care particularly for women aged 40 and older to rule out cancerous growth in the breasts.

  • Lumpectomy – Also referred to as partial mastectomy or breast conserving surgery, this is a surgical procedure that removes a tumor and a part of the breast tissue, usually when cancer is present but has not spread.

  • Mastectomy - Usually performed as a treatment for breast cancer, this involves the removal of all breast tissue. This procedure is commonly followed by breast reconstruction, a surgery that rebuilds the breast using artificial implants or a flap of tissue taken from another part of the body.

  • Breast augmentation – This is a plastic surgery procedure performed solely for cosmetic purposes. It involves surgically placing breast implants in the chest area or injecting fat harvested from other parts of the body (usually the buttocks and thighs) to increase fullness and improve symmetry of the breasts.

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