Each breast has 15 to 20 sections, called lobes, that are arranged like the petals of a daisy.
Each lobe has many smaller lobules, which end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk.
The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are all linked by thin tubes called ducts.
These ducts lead to the nipple in the center of a dark area of skin called the areola.
Fat fills the spaces between lobules and ducts.
There are no muscles in the breast, but muscles lie under each breast and cover the ribs.
Each breast also contains blood vessels and vessels that carry lymph. The lymph vessels lead to small bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes, clusters of which are found under the arm, above the collarbone, and in the chest, as well as in many other parts of the body.
Routine care is the best way to keep you and your breasts healthy. Although detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages is the main goal of routine breast care, other benign conditions, such as fibrocystic breasts, are often discovered through routine care.
Mammography is a low-dose x-ray of the breasts to find changes that may occur. It is the most common imaging technique. Mammography can detect cancer or other problems before a lump becomes large enough to be felt, as well as assist in the diagnosis of other breast problems.
If you’ve been informed you have dense breasts, additional imaging options may be recommended such as breast tomosynthesis (commonly referred to as a 3D mammogram) or an automated breast ultrasound (ABUS). These do not replace a standard screening mammogram but work in conjunction with it to improve cancer detection in patients with dense breasts.
A diagnostic mammogram or diagnostic ultrasound may be required when a questionable area is found during a screening mammogram or felt during a clinical breast exam.
A breast examination by a physician or nurse trained to evaluate breast problems should be part of a woman's physical examination.
The ACS recommends between the ages of 20 and 39, women should have a clinical breast examination by a health professional every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast examination by a health professional every year.
A physical breast examination by a physician or nurse is very similar to the procedures used for breast self-examination.
Breast self-exams are an option for women 20 and older as a means of familiarizing themselves with their breasts so they can notice changes more easily. BSE should be done regularly at the same time every month. Regular BSE teaches you to know how your breasts normally feel so that you can more readily detect any change. Changes may include:
- Development of a lump
- A discharge other than breast milk
- Swelling of the breast, skin irritation or dimpling nipple abnormalities (i.e., pain, redness, scaliness, turning inward)
If you notice any of these changes, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible for evaluation.