Anatomy of the Breast
It can be helpful to understand the anatomy of the breast in order to better understand how they are supposed to feel. The nipple and areola are the two most visible parts of the breast, and the breast buds are the small areas of breast tissue that can be felt below the areola.
The breast is made up of other parts including glands, fatty tissue, and connective tissue. All of this contributes to how the breasts should feel. Let’s take a closer look:
- Fatty tissue
- Connective tissue
Breast tissue is made of multiple layers. The superficial layer has epithelial cells that create the nipple and areola. On top of this layer, the next layer contains connective tissues and muscles like the suspensory ligament or Cooper’s ligament that help the breasts maintain their shape and positioning on your chest. Breast tissue also has lymph nodes and blood vessels, which are necessary for breast health.
The innermost layer of breast tissue is composed of fat cells, which help to give breasts their shape and softness. The fat in this layer is attached to connective fiber which helps support it, though it can’t provide as much structural integrity as other layers found in the breast. This means that a larger amount of fatty tissue may reduce your ability to feel lumps or even cause one breast to appear smaller than the other.
Women’s breasts come in all shapes and sizes, so there isn’t one universal answer when trying to describe how they should look or feel – it really depends on individual makeup. That being said, healthy breasts should generally be firm yet supple to the touch without any lumps or contour changes that appear uneven across both sides. Consult with a healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about any changes you may have noticed in your own breast composition over time.
Nipple and Areola
The nipple and areola is made up of glands, vessels, and muscle tissue. The areola is the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple. Its size and shape can vary considerably across individuals. Underneath the areola, a series of Montgomery glands secrete fluid which helps to keep the skin lubricated.
Also situated underneath the areola is Cooper’s ligament which connects to points on a breast’s chest wall – known as Cooper’s points – enabling the breasts to move freely during exercise or physical activity. While some women may have an additional pair of nipples further down their abdomen, these do not contain milk ducts so don’t have an important function in breastfeeding.
The muscle that extends from near the collarbone down crossways over breasts sits over Cooper’s Points. This groups together with elastic fibers running in all directions which keep moving milk from milk ducts during feeding or arm movement. It also helps when breastfeeding – as baby suckles, muscles lift and compress milk ducts behind milk sacs located inside each breast in order to push milk out into mouth through nipple openings.
The lymph nodes are an important part of the lymphatic system, which is responsible for defending the body from disease and infection. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are located in various areas of the body. In the breast, there are two distinct networks of lymph nodes: axillary (underarm) lymph nodes and internal mammary (or inframammary) lymph nodes.
- Axillary (underarm) lymph nodes: These include five to nine clusters of small, bean-shaped lymph nodes that lie along a two-inch belt beneath each arm and alongside the breast tissue. They help protect against inflammation and infection in the breasts.
- Internal Mammary (or Inframammary) Lymph Nodes: These are located deep within each breast, usually right over or near each rib cage. This group of larger lumps can grow to be up to 1 inch across and may feel rubbery or firm when touched. They receive fluids from all parts of each breast and provide additional protection against infection by filtering out bacteria, fungi, and other substances that could potentially cause harm.
Normal Breast Feelings
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they can also feel different. It’s completely normal to have changes in your breasts, and it’s important to get to know your body and how it feels. Understanding what’s normal for you can help you to recognize anything out of the ordinary, and can even help you to identify any potential health issues.
So, what should you expect when it comes to normal breast feelings? Let’s take a closer look:
Sensitivity and Tenderness
Many women are aware of the normal sensitivities and changes that occur in their breasts during different times in their menstrual cycle, but not all women experience these sensations. During the first half of a woman’s cycle, known as the follicular phase, estrogen levels are high, making breasts slightly more sensitive and tender than usual. As levels of estrogen and progesterone start to drop before ovulation in the second half of a woman’s cycle (known as the luteal phase), sensations of tenderness usually become less noticeable.
It’s important to note that inflammation around the breast tissue can also cause sensitivity, tenderness or pain. A condition known as cyclical mastalgia may cause pain that is related to hormonal changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle, so it’s important to consult your doctor if you find yourself experiencing pain on a regular basis.
Additionally, certain medical conditions may make you hypersensitive to touch in your chest or cause sudden sharp or burning pains when pressure is applied. If you experience any kind of abnormal discomfort or tightness around your chest area it’s worth seeking medical advice as soon as possible and discussing possible causes with your doctor.
Swelling and Discomfort
It is normal for one or both breasts to swell and become tender. This is particularly common in female teens, as the changes occurring from puberty can sometimes affect the breast tissue. Women often experience swelling and discomfort in their breasts shortly before and during their menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes, which can cause the breasts to become swollen or firm. Some women report that their nipples may look darker or extended during this time as well.
If you are pregnant, you may also experience breast swelling due to changes in your hormones; this is generally known as engorgement. Swollen breasts during pregnancy indicate an increase of blood flow to the area, which is preparing it for feeding a baby. Along with increased size, women may notice stabbing pains in their nipple area due to high levels of progesterone affecting the nerve endings in this area.
It is important to talk with a doctor if you are experiencing any abnormal symptoms such as certain lumps or tenderness that persists after your menstrual cycle. Though many of these sensations are normal and expected, it’s important for your medical provider to monitor them on an ongoing basis.
Pain in the breast is one of the most common health concerns for women. The most important thing to understand is that it is usually not a sign of cancer. In fact, up to 85% of breast pain is classified as cyclic – meaning that it comes and goes in relation to your menstrual cycle – which typically indicates a benign cause. However, as with any symptom or medical concern, it’s always best to seek medical advice if you suspect something may be wrong with your breasts.
Many women experience some degree of pain in the chest area and there are many potential causes for discomfort. Commonly reported descriptions include sharp stabbing pains, pulling sensations, deep ache or burning sensation. Typically cyclic breast pain will peak before your period or during ovulation, while non-cyclic breast pain may remain consistent regardless of hormones fluctuations. Most benign breast problems can be addressed with medication and lifestyle modifications (such as wearing a properly fitting bra). In more serious cases surgery may be recommended and some underlying causes require treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy such as results due to cancerous mammary cells.
It’s important to note that chest pain can also have other causes unrelated to changes in the breasts themselves such as:
- Muscle strain due to overactivity/ overexertion
- Issues related to heartburn/ GERD & other digestive conditions/ respiratory diseases like pneumonia & bronchitis
- Issues with lungs etc.
You should always consult your doctor if you experience any kind of chest pain so they can make an accurate diagnosis and provide adequate care & relief.
Abnormal Breast Feelings
It is normal to feel uncomfortable, or even concerned, if you feel something unusual in your breasts. Changes in your breasts can be caused by a number of factors, such as hormonal changes and even normal aging. However, if you experience sudden and severe changes in your breasts that last more than a couple of days, it is important to talk to a doctor.
This section will look into the types of abnormal feelings that can be experienced in the breasts and what you should do if you experience them.
Lumps and Bumps
It is common for everyone’s breasts to feel different on any given day due to hormonal fluctuations or illness. However, it is important to know what irregularities or abnormalities can indicate a problem. Most of the time, breast abnormalities are benign (non-cancerous) and don’t require treatment, but if there are any changes or concerns it’s important to see a doctor.
Lumps and Bumps: These can be perfectly normal and often pop up as you approach your period when your hormones change. If they don’t go away after your menstrual cycle ends, you should monitor them and schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider if needed. On rare occasions these lumps can be a sign of cancer. Specifically looking for lumps that have irregular margins (edges) rather than round ones which may signify a malignant tumor that should be evaluated by a healthcare provider for further testing.
Nipple discharge is any fluid that seeps out of the nipple of the breast. It can occur in women and men of any age. In most changes, it’s not a sign of breast cancer. Discharge can be completely normal, often related to hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy. In some cases, however, it can indicate an underlying medical condition or concern like an infection or injury to the nipple.
In women, nipple discharge may be normal during pregnancy (often due to extra hormones such as prolactin), when breasts are stimulated, after stopping birth control pills or before menopause. Normal discharge can vary in amount, color (clear to yellowish to greenish), consistency (watery to thick) and time of day (more common at night).
A doctor may need to evaluate the discharge if it is associated with any other symptoms like a lump in the breast, redness or pain; presents clear-to-bloody; occurs spontaneously from one breast only; is one-sided; comes from both breasts at once; or produces more than two tablespoons per day for several days in a row and does not go away within two weeks. Testing may include:
- Breast exam
- Mammogram and ultrasound
- Imaging (MRI)
- Lab tests such as a sample of tissue removal for biopsy if needed
- Cultures for infection when appropriate.
Burning or Itching
Burning or itching sensations in the breast can have a variety of causes. The most likely causes of burning and itching are hormonal imbalances and dietary issues, so it’s important to examine any recent changes in your life that might have triggered these sensations. Other possible causes include infections, skin irritations, medications, and allergies.
Hormonal imbalances often occur during puberty, pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menstrual cycles, and menopause. If a hormonal imbalance is causing your breast discomfort, you’re likely to experience other symptoms such as flushing, aches and pains in your breasts or across your body. Similarly these feelings can be caused by hormonal changes associated with use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy after menopause. Dietary changes such as high levels of caffeine intake or inadequate hydration may also cause burning or itching in the breasts.
Infections can result from nipple piercings bacterial infections or sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). These infections may cause inflammation and redness along with a burning sensation around the breasts. Skin irritations related to tight bras or clothing items may also cause burning or itching sensations on the skin around the breasts as well as redness and inflammation; if this is the case simply replacing tighter apparel with looser-fitting garments may help alleviate these sensations. Medications used to treat breast cancer more commonly known as aromatase inhibitors can have an effect on estrogen production leading to uncomfortable burning or itching around the chest area; if taking these mediciations consult with a medical professional for more specific instructions on alleviating such symptoms if they occur while using treatments like aromatase inhibitors can help increase comfort levels while taking such medication.
Itchiness related to topical creams like corticosteroids used for treating eczema can also cause itchiness around the breast area; however this will usually subside within a few minutes when contact with that cream has ceased so long-term side effects should not be expected. Lastly allergies to certain food items fabrics etc which occur over time resulting from contact with a certain substance over extended period of time may lead to an increasing degree of irritation culminating in intense breast discomfort. For any sort of allergy it is recommended that those particular substances be avoided altogether.
Causes of Abnormal Breast Feelings
Breast feelings can range from normal to abnormal, and it’s important to understand the difference. While a woman’s breasts will naturally change in size, shape and feel throughout her lifetime, changes such as lumps or pain can signal a problem. Let’s learn more about the causes of these abnormal breast feelings:
Breast cancer, or any cause of a lump or spot on the breast, can contribute to abnormal feelings in the breast tissue. If breast cancer is present, you may feel a dense lump that is firm and does not move when you touch it. Sometimes, there will also be changes in the way your nipple looks or feels. It may become inverted (pulled in) when it was previously sticking out and fluid (not milk) may leak from the nipple or you may have clear or bloody discharge.
Additionally, any persistent soreness, thickening of the skin or redness around your nipples would warrant a call to your doctor for further testing.
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic breast conditions (sometimes referred to as fibrocystic breast disease, fibrocystic breasts, and benign breast disease) refer to changes in the breasts tissue typical of normal premenopausal women and commonly characterized by lumpiness, breast pain or discomfort, and cysts. This is one of the most common causes of abnormal breast feelings.
This condition occurs when the milk-producing gland and stroma (the stroma is the connective tissue that holds a gland together) respond to normal hormonal fluctuations with swelling of fluid-filled sacs called cysts, which can appear as bumps or lumps and cause tenderness. Breast cysts may also contain lumps made up of fibrous tissue. In some cases, there may be areas palpated (felt by pressing on it) with an irregular texture like pebbles or small ridges that comes from buildup of scar-like material called sclerosing adenosis.
Sometimes these changes can be more noticeable around menstruation when hormone levels are highest; however they can occur at any point in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Women should not assume that all findings during self-examination are related to fibrocystic breasts until evaluated by their health care provider for further assessment.
Treatment for this condition usually consists of lifestyle modifications, including:
- Avoidance of caffeine intake
- Regular exercise
- Stress reduction techniques such as yoga or meditation
- Heating pads on sore areas
- Over-the-counter pain medications as needed
- Taking a daily vitamin B6 supplement
which may also help reduce symptoms associated with fibrocystic changes in certain people.
Infections are a common cause of abnormal breast sensations in women. Several types of infections can trigger symptoms including pain, soreness and itching. These conditions may range from mild and localized to severe and widespread. Common infections include the following:
- Mastitis: Mastitis is a bacterial infection of the mammary gland that is most often caused by milk stasis or blocked milk ducts. It can cause redness, swelling, tenderness, pain and a fever.
- Fungal infections: Yeast infections such as candidiasis and thrush are caused by an overgrowth of yeast in warm moist areas such as the mouth or under the breast folds. Symptoms include redness, itching and burning sensations on the skin.
- Bacterial infection: Bacterial skin infections such as cellulitis can occur when bacteria invade broken or damaged skin around the breast area. Symptoms include redness, warmth, swelling and tenderness that may be accompanied by fever and chills.
These conditions require medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment so it’s important to discuss any symptoms or concerns with your healthcare provider promptly if they are present.
When to See a Doctor
Breasts are composed of fat and breast tissue and should normally feel soft, yet slightly firm. Changes in texture, size, or shape may indicate a health concern. If your breasts feel thick, lumpy, swollen, or tender, it may be a sign of infection or other underlying medical condition.
It’s important to be aware of the changes in your breasts and know when to see a doctor.
Breast health is an important part of women’s overall health. Being aware of normal breast changes and understanding the signs that should prompt a visit to the doctor can help you remain vigilant and proactive about your breast health. Whether it’s changes to texture, size, shape or color – any symptom that is new or persistent should be checked by a health care professional.
If you find a lump that feels different from other lumps or areas in your breasts, it should be examined by a doctor. Soft lumps are usually not cancerous but could be if left unchecked. Dense lumps may be benign but will likely require further testing from a mammogram, ultrasound or breast biopsy to know for sure. If you experience any abnormal discharge from your nipples, whether bloody or clear – make an appointment with a healthcare provider right away.
Additional potential signs of breast cancer include:
- Flaky skin on the nipple or redness near the nipple area
- Thickening of the skin on one side only
- Unusual pores in the colored areola area
- Recent change in size and/or shape of either one breast (often noticed when looking into a mirror)
- Indentation on either side (sometimes making one breast appear to “sink” lower)
- Severe pain that doesn’t go away (although pain rarely is related to cancer)
- Feeling of fullness that doesn’t go away after urinating may indicate tumors in some cases.
It’s important to remember that many years pass between anything wrong happening with breasts and being diagnosed with cancer. In most cases where changes occur but symptoms do not persist – no further action is required. But if something persists for more than 2 weeks – get it checked out immediately!
Pain or Discomfort
Breasts can feel painful, uncomfortable, itchy or tender for various reasons. It’s common to feel pain and discomfort due to hormonal changes in your menstrual cycle or even during puberty. But if the pain persists beyond an expected period of time or is accompanied by other symptoms, then it’s important to see a doctor.
The following are signs of potential breast health issues that warrant further medical attention:
- Pain that doesn’t go away after several days or is constant and has no clearly identified cause
- A lump or new mass you can feel
- Localized swelling that won’t go away
- Redness, warmth, unusual tenderness, itching or burning sensation on a part of the breast
- Dimpling, puckering of the skin on the breast
- A rash along with redness and/or itchiness
- Fluid leaking from one or both nipples as well as visible blood in the fluid
If you experience any of these symptoms do not hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor.
Nipple discharge is a release of fluid from the nipples that can occur in both men and women, but is more common in women due to their higher levels of circulating hormones. Discharge can be caused by a wide range of factors, including benign conditions such as cysts and infections. It may also be an early symptom of breast cancer. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience involuntary nipple discharge as it could indicate a more serious problem.
The normal appearance of nipple discharge varies significantly from person to person and depends on age, hormone levels and pregnancy status. In some cases, nipple discharge may be clear or milky in color with no odor or taste; this type usually occurs during pregnancy or lactation as a result of hormonal changes. In other cases, it may appear as watery or sticky with an abnormal color (such as red) or have an unpleasant odor; these signs are suggestive of infection or other pathology:
- Green/yellowish – could indicate an infection
- Blood-tinged/rusty – could indicate carcinoma
- Pus-like – could indicate inflammation
- Thick/cheesy – could indicate a yeast infection
It is important to take notice if your nipple discharge has changed in quantity, consistency or color; this could be indicative of a health issue that requires medical attention. Symptoms like fever, redness around the breasts or lump associated with the discharge should not be ignored and need to be evaluated by a doctor promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.