The well-known breast cancer advocacy and research group Susan G. Komen indicates that, according to the most recent data available, 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer occurred among women worldwide in 2012. Western Europe, North America, and northern Europe have the highest breast cancer incidences in the world, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization.
Women diagnosed with breast cancer may want to begin their treatment journeys by educating themselves on the anatomy of the breast so they can better understand their disease and how it develops.
The structure of the breast is complex and comprised of fat, glandular tissue, connective tissue, lobes, lobules, ducts, lymph nodes, blood vessels, and ligaments. The following is a breakdown of the common components of the breast:
Fat cells: The female breast is largely fat cells called adipose tissue. This tissue extends from the collarbone down to the underarm and across to the middle of the rib cage. The main purpose of adipose tissue is to store energy in the form of fat and insulate the body.
Lobules: Each breast contains several sections that branch out from the nipple. Lobule glands make milk and are often grouped together to form lobes. There may be between 15 and 20 lobes in each breast, says the Cleveland Clinic. Each lobe has roughly 20 to 40 lobules.
Ducts: Connecting the lobules are small tubes called ducts. The ducts carry milk to the nipples of the breasts. There are around 10 duct systems in each breast, each with its own opening at the nipple.
Nipple: The nipple may be the most recognizeable part of the breast. It is in the center of the breast. The lobules will squeeze milk into the ducts, which then transfer it to the nipples. Most nipples protrude outward, but according to Health magazine’s medical editor Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, some women have flat or inverted nipples. The nipples do not have a singular hole for the milk to come out like an artificial bottle nipple. Rather, there are many lactiferous duct outlets in each nipple that correspond to the ducts in each breast.
Lymph system: Snaking through the adipose tissue are lymph vessels and nodes. The lymph system distributes disease-fighting cells and fluids as part of the immune system, states the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. Bean-shaped lymph nodes in fixed areas through the system filter abnormal cells away from healthy tissue.
Areola: The areola is pigmented skin surrounding a nipple. The areola contains tubercles called Montgomery’s glands, which secrete lubricating materials to make breastfeeding more comfortable.
Changes in any areas of the breast may be indicative of cancer. That is why women are urged to understand their breasts’ “normal” appearance and feel so they can recognize any changes and address them with a doctor right away.