Women's Health | June 27, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and will change from adolescence to menopause. Breast lumps, cysts, mastitis and pain are common problems that can occur. Knowing what these conditions are and how to perform regular breast checks is integral in maintaining healthy breasts. It’s important to visit your doctor if you notice any changes.
The primary function of our breasts to is produce milk following the birth of a baby. A process referred to as lactation. Milk is formed in the glandular cells of the breast (called lobules) which then travels down ducts, reaching the nipple. The nipple contains several holes which allow for milk to flow through, providing nourishment for an infant. Fat and fibrous tissue surrounds these structures—giving breasts their individual shape. It is completely normal for one breast to be slightly larger than the other.
Breast size does not determine the amount of milk produced, small breasts have the same ability to produce sufficient amounts of milk. Breasts also contain lymph glands, nerves and blood vessels. Breast tissue is generally sensitive to touch and can provide sexual pleasure for both you and your partner.
Prior to puberty there is little difference between male and female breasts. It is not until a female hits puberty that the body starts producing larger quantities of oestrogen and progesterone which cause the breasts to undergo significant changes. This eventually leads to the development of more mature breasts.
Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can affect breast tissue. Some women experience tender and or lumpy breasts just prior to a menstrual period. After menopause, when menstruation has ceased, hormonal changes can lead to increased breast discomfort. It is during this time that glandular tissue of the breast is replaced with fatty tissue.
It is quite normal for breasts to have benign (non-cancerous nodules) or to be lumpy. It is important to be familiar with your breasts so that you can tell if any changes occur. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following:
From your 20’s onwards it’s important to do the following once a month.
Stand in front of the mirror with your hands on your hips and check the shape, colour and size of your breasts.
Raise your arms in the air and look for the same things.
Next it is important to feel the breast tissue to check for lumps and find areas that are painful. Take note if the skin is dimpled, flattened and different from before.
Mammograms or breast x-ray screening is also important, particularly for women over the age of 40. It can show breast changes that are too small for you or your doctor to feel.
Breast cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the breast. It starts in the milk ducts or milk lobules and may grow into surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australian women.
Selenium and vitamin D have been shown to have strong cancer-protective qualities in the breast. It is important adequate amounts of these nutrients are in the diet or supplemented is necessary.
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These are a common cause of lumps in the breast. They are non-cancerous and consist of glands and fibrous tissue. The lump is not painful—often feeling smooth and firm. Fibroadenomas are common in women between the ages of 15-30, occurring in up to 1 in 6 women.
A cyst is a fluid filled sac in the breast which usually isn’t cancerous. Cysts are not dangerous but are sometimes uncomfortable or painful. They commonly occur in women aged 35-50, but can occasionally occur in younger women.
A very common condition, affecting up to 60% of women. It is caused by a combination of cysts and thickened breast tissue and is the most common cause of ‘lumpy breasts’. This lump may vary with the hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, but it isn’t harmful or dangerous.
It is normal for milk to leak from your nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If a discharge occurs and you are not pregnant or breastfeeding you should see your doctor. Discharge from the nipple can be blood stained, watery or contain pus and could be caused by a variety of factors.
Mastitis occurs when there is inflammation of the breast tissue—commonly caused by an infection during breastfeeding.
Symptoms include redness, heat, pain and lumpiness in the affected breast tissue. This can also be accompanied with flu-like symptoms.
Draining the breast by expressing or continuing breast feeding can help clear a blocked duct.
Vitamin c and zinc, echinacea and turmeric can be taken to help to fight infection and cooling packs applied to the breast can help relieve symptoms faster.
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Also referred to as painful breasts, mastalgia usually occurs just before your period. It is often linked to the menstrual cycle—the painful breasts are a result of fluid retention because of hormonal activity at that time. Vitamin E, B6, vitex and evening primrose oil have been shown to be helpful in treating this condition.
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Blessed thistle and fenugreek are two herbs which have been traditionally used to support healthy lactation. They may help to increase milk supply to help satisfy a baby’s requirements.
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Ekoue DN, et al. Selenium in human breast carcinoma tissue are associated with a common polymorphism in the gene for SELENOP (Selenoprotein P). J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2017 Jan;39:227-233
Tavera-Mendoza LE, et al. Vitamin D receptor regulates autophagy in the normal mammary gland and in the luminal breast cancer cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Mar 14;114(11):E2186-E2194
Pruthi S, et al. Vitamin E and evening primrose oil for management of clyclical mastalgia: a randomized pilot study. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):59-67
Xu Z, et al. Nonmonotonic responses to low doses of xenoestrogens: a review. Environ Res. 2017 May;155:199-207