The breasts, also known as mammary glands, are a pair of glandular organs that produce milk in response to the hormonal changes that occur at childbirth. They are mainly composed of breast tissue, made up of lobules and ducts, surrounded by fatty and supportive tissue. Breasts arise high on the front of the chest wall and extend down and around into the axilla or armpit. Each breast is supported by ligaments and large muscles.
Every breast comprises 15-20 lobes, with a number of lobules and ducts. These are where milk is made, stored in sacs and carried through to the nipple during breastfeeding. Each lobule has about 30 major ducts that open onto the nipple. The darker area around the nipple is called the areola. There are sebaceous glands at the edge of the areola that secrete a lubricant for the nipple.
Tissue fluid is drained from the breast through the 25-30 lymph nodes which are located in the axilla. These are part of the lymphatic system which helps the body fight infection.
It is common and perfectly normal for one breast to be larger than the other. The nipples usually point forward, although they may look different on each breast. It is not unusual for one or both nipples to be inverted (turned inwards). The inversion can be present from birth or occur as the breasts develop. Although nipples are hairless some women may have a few hairs around their areola.
A small number of women have extra or accessory breast tissue. This usually occurs towards the armpit. Some women have extra nipples.
Breasts change constantly, from puberty to the menopause, as a result of fluctuating levels in oestrogen. Once breasts are fully developed, changes relating to the menstrual cycle are common.
Breast awareness is an important aspect of women caring for their bodies. Familiarity with their breasts means women will be aware of normal changes. More importantly they will notice anything unusual. Regular self examination helps ensure any changes are noticed early.
The basis of breast awareness is:
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