Breast development is the first sign of adolescence in young girls. Usually, breasts develop as tender bumps under one or both nipples that eventually get bigger over the coming years. It is quite common for one breast to be larger than the other, or for one side to develop before the other.
Breast problems in women include a variety of benign and malignant disorders. Breast pain, nipple discharge and a solid mass are the most common breast problems about which every woman must be aware.
Many women with breast pain or breast lumps can be signs of breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of deaths in women. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the more easily and successfully it can be treated.
Breast pain is very common – perhaps all women have it at some time. It is common to have painful, heavy, swollen breasts before a menstrual cycle. Both breasts get affected at the same time and one may feel some kind of discomfort in the armpit or upper arm. In some women, the pain is so severe that they might have to have to wear a bra at night. The problem usually starts in the 20s and 30s, and ends by menopause.
Some women’s breasts are sensitive to hormonal changes which occurs before her monthly cycle.
To get relief from the pain, one can –
o Wear a soft bra at night.
o Avoid jogging, swimming, or other strenuous exercises.
REDNESS UNDER THE BREASTS –
A red ‘sweat rash’ underneath the breasts, armpits is called intertrigo. It may become sore and itchy, with some whitish material on it. It is usually a fungal/ bacterial infection caused by skin-on-skin friction. If one is overweight as well as having large, sagging breasts, the skin crease underneath them is ideal for the fungus to thrive.
To get relief –
1.Wear a supportive, under wired cotton (allows sweat to evaporate) bra to lift your breasts up. Under wired styles should be avoided in moist weather, as they tend to trap sweat under the breasts.
2. Clean carefully under the breasts with a fragrance free soap. Rinse well to ensure no lather remains in the skin crease. Dry thoroughly but gently, and apply some antiseptic powder.
3. Stop applying cosmetic creams or topical ointments on your own, as you could be sensitive to any of the ingredients, and the cream could perhaps make it worse.
4. Lose weight, if you are overweight. It might be difficult to eliminate the rash unless you lose some weight.
TUBEROUS BREAST DEFORMITY
This is a disorder of the breast shape and growth wherein one or both the breasts assume a constricted shape. The breast shape is of a narrow base width, much smaller than would be proportional to the chest, a tight inframammary crease with maybe a herniated or bulging nipple and areola that is disproportional to the size of the breast.
Treatment involves breast augmentation surgery – expanding the base width of the breast with an implanted prosthesis, lowering the inframammary crease, and reducing the bulging of the nipple and areola.
SOLID BREAST MASSES
Non-cystic masses in women in their reproductive stage that are different from the surrounding breast tissue require biopsy. The extent of evaluation of a solid breast mass depends on the age and risk status of the patient. In the presence of a dominant breast mass, a normal mammogram is not sufficient proof of the absence of breast cancer.
It is natural for breasts to droop with age, particularly in women with large breasts who have had several pregnancies or have been into strenuous physical work. Jogging also causes saggy breasts as it puts a lot of strain on the delicate supporting tissue. One should be regular in wearing a supportive sports bra while undergoing such activities as it can help reduce the severity of the problem.
Lot of cosmetics, gels, creams are available in the market today which tone the breast and give it a firm appearance, but that is only temporary. Very droopy breasts can be tightened up by surgery – called mastopexy. Breast implants have also become a very common surgical method.
In some women, the nipple may not protrude normally. This is due to congenitally shortened breast ducts. With stimulation, the nipple may emerge from its location within the breast, but in some patients, even stimulation may not bring the nipple out. This makes breast-feeding impossible.
Surgery can help bring the nipple out which involves incisions in or at the base of the nipple. This may allow breast-feeding later in life.
A nipple that suddenly becomes inverted, can be a sign of a cancer underneath, so one should see a doctor straight away.
Nipple discharge is usually harmless and does not signify anything seriously wrong. This may be whitish or may be yellowish green or almost black.
However, nipple discharge can be a symptom of breast cancer, if it is bloodstained. If you are a man, see a doctor immediately, because the usual cause may be a tumour, which requires treatment.
Some drugs can cause non-bloody nipple discharge such as:
o oral contraceptives
Some women may also have nipple discharge very early in pregnancy. If the discharge is milky and coming from both breasts, it can be due to an imbalance of the hormone prolactin.
Coarse, dark hairs around the nipple is quite common. You can either pull them out, or cut them off close to the skin. The hairs will grow again, so you will have to cut them off again from time to time.
Hairs round the nipple are nothing to worry about unless one has excess hair on other parts of the body and periods are irregular. This might be a case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
ITCHY AND SCALY NIPPLES
Itchy and cracked nipples are perhaps indicative of eczema. It occurs mostly in teenagers and affects both nipples. A topical steroid cream helps alleviate the condition.
One must consult a doctor if you have eczema on only one nipple, because that can be a sign of cancer. It occurs mainly in middle-aged women – symptoms being a pricking or burning feeling.
‘Jogger’s nipple’ is another condition, caused by friction from bra, clothing, especially during long-distance running. Take care of the nipples by using Vaseline.
Breast infections frequently occur during breast-feeding, and is caused by bacteria infecting the milk that is within the breast. Prompt treatment with antibiotics resolves the problem before it becomes very painful or before an abscess develops.