Breasts are the main female symbol. They are a pair organ found on the front of the chest, containing mammary glands located inside fatty tissue and connective tissue, which forms the shape and firmness of a breast. Breast size depends on the woman's age, genetic predisposition and hormonal influence, but has little relation to the mammary glands' functionality. Just like any other organ, breasts can be affected by various diseases, whose symptoms should not be underestimated. This is because they can mean a breast cancer, which directly endangers the woman's life.
Structure and function of the breast
The breast, just like any other sexual characteristics, undergoes development during the woman's life. The mammary gland is established even before birth, but it only starts to develop during puberty, when it's influenced by female sex hormones from the ovaries. The breast grows and attains its shape. Milk ducts lead from the mammary gland, ending on the nipple. A pigmented areola is located around the nipple. Areolas contain sebaceous glands, which protect the skin of the nipple from damage during breastfeeding by producing an oily substance known as sebum. The nipples and areolas of fully developed breasts are sensitive. Breasts only reach the final phase of development during the first finished pregnancy. Due to high levels of hormones the process of maturation of cells in the mammary gland is finished, the gland grows larger to prepare for production and expression of breast milk, which begins after birth. Most women are capable of breastfeeding their own child. Breast milk if very important for a newborn, since it contains all the necessary nutrients, increases resistance against infections and last but not least, strengthens the bond between mother and child. The mammary glands return to their pre-pregnancy state after breastfeeding and milk production is concluded. Breasts are also influenced by hormones during the menstrual cycle, which is why unpleasant feelings of tension and pain can occur in some women during a cycle. During the menopause, when production of reproductive hormones declines, the breast and the mammary gland changes. Fatty tissue disappears gradually, the mammary gland diminishes and the breasts on the whole tend to sag.
Among the less than serious diseases are an inflammation, common especially during postpartum, the formation of cysts and benign changes in consistency of the mammary gland, which are palpable as hard areas, but are not cancer. On the other hand, cancer is a very serious disease.
Breast inflammation is a common disease, especially in breastfeeding women. This is because little tears or scrapes on the breast's and nipple's skin can occur during breastfeeding. Bacteria enters the breast through these defects, causing an infection. Not emptying the milk ducts properly and having milk build up in them also contributes to inflammations. This creates an environment for bacteria, which then multiply quickly. A breast inflammation manifests by pain and feeling of tension in the breast, fever, reddening, lymph nodes in the armpits becoming swollen and sensitive to touch. The treatment of breast inflammation consists of antibiotics, medication to combat fever, bed rest, plenty of fluids and applying wet or dry heat to the breast.
Gynecomastia is a medical term for the increase of mammary glands in males. The growth is caused by a change in the balance of male and female hormones, in advantage of female hormones. The increase can vary from a slight one to developing a middle sized female breast. Gynecomastia is most commonly caused by medication, as a side effect of a different disease, drug abuse, testicular cancer and cancer of the adrenal glands, chronic kidney and liver disease, genetic disorders, disorders of the thyroid gland or testicular disorder. Gynecomastia can also be caused by breast cancer, which is less common in men, but should still be kept in mind. Treatment of gynecomastia depends on its cause. Enlarged mammary glands can always be surgically removed for cosmetic reasons.
Breast pain is a common issue, encountered at least once by every woman. We divide them into hormonally dependent and hormonally independent. Hormonally dependent breast pain mainly occurs in younger women before menstruation and can persist during the entire menstruation. Sometimes, cysts can develop in the breast, small cavities filled with fluid, or areas of changed connective tissue, which increase in size during menstruation, becoming sensitive, firm and nodular to the touch. With hormonally independent pain it is necessary to consider fibrocystical changes in the breast together with structural changes, as well as issues of the cervical spine, injuries, pleuritis or inflammation of intercostal nerves. It is also necessary to consider a malignant breast tumor, which will be described in its own section. Treatment of breast pain depends on the cause.
Breast tumors are one of the most common cancerous diseases in women. Breast tumors can be divided into malignant and benign. Benign tumors, mainly afflicting younger women, are cysts, which are cavities filled with fluid, which can be palpable as smooth, round, mobile growths or fibroadenomas, which are palpable as a solid, thick knot of connective tissue. These may cause lasting breast pain, reddening of the skin and discharge from the nipple may be present. The most common of malignant tumors is a breast carcinoma. It creates stiff, enclosed lumps in the breast. Some types of carcinoma can grow slowly and it can take some time before they manifest themselves, others can increase their size withing several days. Carcinomas are also characterized by spreading into surrounding tissues and lymph nods and creating distant cancerous nodes, metastases, in the body. Treatment of breast tumors is surgical, chemotherapeutical, hormonal and also using irradiation. Above all, the equation between early discovery and beginning of treatment and higher chances of recovery applies.
The basis of good care for breasts is regular examination. A gynecologist should palpate and examine the breasts during each yearly preventative checkup. In order to prevent breast cancer, every woman from 45 to 69 years should undergo a mammograph breast examination every 2 years. A mammograph is a device which examines the breasts by weak x-ray radiation. The result is an image showing any eventual tumor before they become palpable. An essential role in breast care is played by the woman herself. Every woman knows her breasts and should examine them herself after every menstruation or once a month after menopause. Breasts are examined in front of a mirror by look and touch in their entire volume, as well as under the clavicle and in the armpit. If a lump or anything disconcerting appears, you should consult your gynecologist immediately. It does not pay to underestimate breast self examination or regular preventive examination at the gynecologist. Every disease is better managed in its beginnings and time is of the essence here. Let's be responsible to ourselves and pay our breasts the attention they deserve. If you discover anything worrying, do not hesitate to seek our medical advice.