Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- What is the breast?
- How is the mammary gland designed?
- How are human breasts different from those of other primates?
- What happens to the breasts in pregnancy?
- What is the function of the nipples and surrounding pigmented tissue?
- What are other internal features of the breast?
- What are cosmetic aspects of the breast?
- How does breast tissue develop in the fetus?
- What are the most common medical concerns about the breast?
What are cosmetic aspects of the breast?
Although the primary biologic function of the breast is to produce milk to feed a baby, the breast has for many centuries been a symbol of femininity and beauty.
Despite the contemporary concept of an ideal breast, there is no single model that is ideal. The appearance of the normal female breast differs greatly from one woman to another woman, and the breast of any given woman even differs at different times during the woman's life -- before, during and after adolescence, during pregnancy, during the menstrual cycle, and after menopause.
How does breast tissue develop in the fetus?
Breast tissue begins to originate by the fourth week of fetal life. It grows along two ridges, one on either side, running from the armpit (axilla) to the crotch. These are the so-called milk ridges or milk lines. Breast tissue can develop anywhere along the milk line. It is quite common to have breast tissue up toward and even in the armpit. An extra nipple (supernumerary nipple) can also develop anywhere along the milk line in both women and men, as can a complete auxiliary breast.
Rarely, the breast may be absent. The normal growth of the breast or nipple never takes place and there is no sign whatsoever of the breast tissue, areola or nipple.
Absence of the breast (also called amastia) frequently does not occur as the only physical problem. Unilateral amastia (amastia just on one side) is often associated with absence of the pectoral muscles (the muscles of the front of the chest). Bilateral amastia (with absence of both breasts) is associated in 40% of cases with multiple congenital anomalies (birth defects) involving other parts of the body as well.
Amastia can be distinguished from amazia -- wherein breast tissue is absent, but the nipple is present -- a condition that typically is a result of radiation or surgery.
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