Contrary to sociological expections, the Playboy centerfold’s breasts are rarely found in nature. Most likely, they’ve benefited from silicone implants, heavy makeup, and airbrushing. Yet many women think there’s something wrong with their own breasts because they don’t resemble this unrealistic ideal.
That also goes for the various glands and fat tissue that make up the breast. Some women find it hard to distinguish between the various irregularities that normally appear in the breast as part of the mammary and lymphatic systems and those that need immediate attention.
The main purpose of a woman’s breasts is producing milk. The milk glands are located throughout the breast tissue, but all of them meet in the nipple. The majority of breast tissue is fat, and behind the fat lies muscle.
It is important for every woman to recognize what the typical irregularities in her breasts are, both during her menstrual periods and between them, since the breast itself changes according to what stage of her cycle she’s in. After menopause, the breast shrinks due to a loss of fat. Even in menopause, it’s important to recognize the changes in your breasts, even though the changes are no longer as frequent.
I consider any change that occurs in the breast to be an abnormal mass or lump. I use these words interchangeably, though it may sometimes lead to confusion. If you feel a mass in your breast of any kind— whether it’s a new growth or a smaller mass that has recently begun to grow—you should see your doctor. If it’s a hard, small mass that has recently appeared, it may be a tumor. However, if the growth is spongy and you feel more than one mass, then you may have fibrocystic disease. The cysts may appear with some regularity and are usually painful to the touch.
Cysts are bits of tissue that have filled with fluid. They are usually soft and spongy to the touch and move around under the skin when you palpate them. They may occur singly or in clusters. Women who drink a lot of coffee and/or caffeinated soda are more likely to have fibrocystic disease than women who don’t.
Fibrocystic disease tends to be more common in women aged 40 and over. As your body prepares for menstruation, there is a buildup of fluid in the body, particularly in the breasts. After menstruation ends, the excess fluid is usually excreted and absorbed into the body. In older women, it’s sometimes difficult for the fluid to be reabsorbed into the lymphatic system, and some of the excess fluid may remain in the breast tissue, where it becomes trapped and forms cysts.
If the mass feels firm, has a well-defined shape, and is mobile underneath the skin, you probably have a fibroadenoma, which is a benign tumor. A fibroadenoma contains both fibrous and glandular tissue, which causes it to be rubbery in texture.
If you feel a mass in your breast that might be a cyst or a fibroadenoma, and you have PMS or are currently menstruating, you may decide to wait until you’ve finished your period to call your doctor, since many cysts become swollen and painful during menstruation. If the pain and size of the cysts recede after your period, the cyst is probably harmless.