They come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and are as unique as the women they belong to – breasts.
They are a fascinating part of the female body that undoubtedly still have a few surprises in store for you. Many consider them the symbol of femininity. Breasts are also at the core of our sexuality. They are therefore a whole lot more than merely a means of breastfeeding.
Whatever your take on breasts, they deserve your attention and care – and, not least, a regular breast cancer examination. Here you can find out how and why you can do something good for your health by examining your breasts.
Fatty and connective tissue
In addition to gland tissue, the breast primarily consists of fatty and connective tissue. The proportions of these vary according to the hormone level.
Nerves, blood vessels and lymph vessels
Nerves make the breast sensitive to external pressure and touch. Blood vessels carry nutrients to the breast, while lymph vessels carry surplus tissue fluid away.
Cells grouped together in gland lobules produce milk. During breastfeeding, this flows into the nipple via the milk ducts.
Why exactly do women have breasts? They contain the gland tissue that produces milk for newborns. But their curved shape is only the norm in humans – in other mammals, they return to their original unnoticeable shape when breastfeeding stops.
To date, science has been unable to offer a substantive explanation for this difference. The fact is that in puberty, sex hormones such as oestrogen in girls cause the breasts to grow. Boys do have breast tissue too, but the hormone testosterone inhibits breast development.
Both men and women have nipples. As is the case with all mammals, these form in the womb before all the sexual characteristics. Nipples are very sensitive to touch. We can even sense pleasure when they are touched – another factor that sets us apart from all other mammals.
Use and care
If you are health-conscious, do something good for your breasts too. You should ideally focus in everyday life on:
- Being very active – at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day (for example, a brisk walk or a leisurely bike ride)
- Healthy eating – at least 1.5 litres of fluid (water, diluted fruit juice, unsweetened herbal or fruit teas), plenty of fruit, vegetables and cereal products, minimal animal fats and red meat
- Moderate alcohol consumption – for women, a small beer or a small glass of wine a day, and at least two days a week which are alcohol-free
- Not smoking
Guide for checking yourself
Checking your breasts regularly will familiarise you with them. If you know your own breasts well, you will be better at identifying untypical changes.
The ideal time to check your breasts is in the first week following your period. Breasts are particularly soft then, meaning unusual changes will be easier to spot.
Before your period, your breasts can be firm at times and soft at others, and they can sometimes feel tight. Checking your breasts may then feel unpleasant and the chances of incorrectly identifying something will be greater.
This is due to hormonal changes during your cycle. These diminish greatly after the menopause. After that, it no longer matters when you check your breasts.
If you notice something unusual when checking your breasts, you should ideally seek medical advice.
|Unusual tightness or pain
|Indentations or lumps
|Discharge of clear or bloody fluid
|Changes in the colour of the areola
|Skin changes such as redness
Possibilities for early detection
All women with statutory health insurance aged 30 and up are entitled to an annual palpation check-up of the breasts and lymph nodes under the arms.
Women aged between 50 and 69 are invited for a mammography every two years. What happens during the examination:
- One after the other, each of the breasts is X-rayed from two different directions – from top to bottom and from the inside out.
- The X-rays are then independently assessed by two consultants.
- Tumours and even precursors of cancer will more than likely be picked up by the mammography.
Good to know
- Hormonal contraceptives barely increase the risk of breast cancer. Nevertheless, if you use these, you should ideally consult a gynaecologist.
- Early detection measures help identify cancers in good time, meaning they can be treated promptly.
- A healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk not only of breast cancer, but also of other cancers.