Breast anatomy: areola, milk ducts and more


The main biological function of a woman's breast is to produce breast milk and to breastfeed her baby. The anatomy of the breast is complex and confusing, and includes several types of tissues, including the breast ducts, lymphatic vessels, nipples, and areola, among other structures.

Here's what you need to know about the many internal and external parts of the breast, their purpose, and the medical conditions that can affect them.


What is the chest made of?

Women's breasts are made up of three types of breast tissue, including:

  • Glandular tissue: Glandular tissue contains the lobes and lobules that produce breast milk.
  • Fatty (or fatty): the size of the breasts is determined by the amount of fatty tissue in the breast.
  • Connective (or fibrous) tissue: This type of tissue holds the glandular and fatty tissue of the breast in place.


The nipple is in the center of the breast, surrounded by the areola. Each nipple contains about nine milk flow holes through which breast milk flows.

The nipples are held upright by small smooth muscles that respond to signals from the autonomic nervous system . Nipple erection can be caused by low temperature or stimulation.

Conditions that affect the nipples

Paget's disease of the nipple is a rare form of breast cancer that accounts for less than 5% of breast cancers. Cancer cells usually come out of the nipple ducts and spread to the surface of the nipple and areola, causing itching, redness, and scaling.


At the intersection of the areola and the front edge of the nipple, there is a fold called the sulcus. It can be a smooth curve of the skin or a kind of wrinkle. Inverted nipples can be hidden within the groove, while inverted nipples can retract along the line of the groove.


Surrounding the nipples is the areola , an area of skin darker than the rest of the skin on the breasts. Your areola can be small or large, round or oval. During pregnancy, the areolas may increase in diameter and later remain larger (and sometimes darker).

The small bumps on the areola can be Montgomery glands or hair follicles. Usually the difference can be noticed because the hair comes out of the hair follicles.

Conditions that affect the areola

If you notice changes in the skin of the areola, such as dimples, wrinkles or rashes, see your doctor. They may be harmless, but they can also be symptoms of Paget's disease.

Pain or hard lumps under the areola can also be symptoms of a subareolar abscess , cancer , or a benign infection that needs to be drained.

Montgomery glands

Montgomery glands are small glands just below the surface of the areola and can be seen as small bumps on the skin. Also called areola glands, they provide lubrication during breastfeeding and also create a scent that draws the baby to the breast.

Conditions affecting the Montgomery glands

Montgomery glands can become blocked, like acne, and swell. A cyst can form under a blocked gland, which can be uncomfortable, but it is not a sign of breast cancer.


Each breast contains 15 to 20 lobes, which contain groups of lobes from which breast milk is produced. Each lobe has 20 to 40 lobes.

Conditions affecting shares

Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) accounts for 10% to 15% of breast cancers. ILC begins in the lobes of the breast and penetrates the surrounding tissue. ILI can appear as a thick or full area that feels different from the rest of the breast.

Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and atypical lobular hyperplasia (ALH) are benign diseases that can affect the lobes and lobes. They are called neoplasms and are made up of abnormal cells. Although neoplasms are not cancerous themselves, their presence increases the risk of breast cancer in the future.

Glandular tissue includes the lobes that carry breast milk and the ducts, the tubes that carry milk to the nipple.

Milk ducts

The milk ducts are small tubes that carry milk from the mammary glands (lobes of the breast) through the tip of the nipple. The ducts are lined with myoepithelial cells.

Breast milk is secreted through tiny holes in the surface of the nipples called milk duct holes. Usually there are two or three of these holes in the center of the nipple and three to five more around the center. These openings have small sphincters (valves) that close to prevent leakage when you are not breastfeeding.

The ducts just below the areola expand before entering the nipple. This wide, sac-like area is called a blister. The blisters are sometimes called frontal ducts.

Conditions that affect the milk ducts.

Invasive ductal carcinoma occurs in the milk ducts; it is the most common type of breast cancer and accounts for 80% of cases. Ductal carcinoma in situ , which also arises from the ducts, is a non-invasive form of ductal carcinoma. A ductogram or Halo test can be used to examine cells in the breast or ducts.

During breastfeeding, the milk duct can become blocked and lead to an infection called mastitis. Mastitis can be very unpleasant, but it generally responds well to heat and antibiotics.

Blood vessel

The internal mammary artery, which passes under the main breast tissue, is the main source of blood supply to the breast. The blood supply provides oxygen and nutrients to the breast tissue.

Conditions that affect the blood vessels

Suitable for nipples mastectomy, the surgeon may temporarily remove and then replace the nipple to remove any breast cells that may contain cancer. However, this can damage the tiny blood vessels, leading to subsequent loss of the nipple, and maintaining the blood supply to the nipple helps keep these tissues alive after mastecomia .

Lymphatic vessels

Lymph vessels carry lymph, a fluid that helps your body's immune system fight infection. Lymphatic vessels connect to lymph nodes under the armpits, in the chest, and elsewhere in the body.

Conditions that affect the lymphatic vessels.

A rare but aggressive type of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) occurs when cancer cells block lymphatic vessels in the skin, making the outside of the breast appear swollen. Symptoms of IBC include dimpling or thickening of the skin of the breast and can look and feel like an orange peel. Other symptoms include breast swelling, itching, and red or purple skin color.

The mammary lymphatic system also plays an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in general. Cancer cells can travel through lymphatic vessels to lymph nodes, travel through the bloodstream, and spread to other organs, a phenomenon known as metastasis.


Your breasts contain a network of nerves with sensitive nerve endings, especially in the areola and nipple. These nerves make the breasts sensitive to touch, cold, and breastfeeding. When your baby begins to suck on your breast, it stimulates the nerves to release the milk from the milk ducts. This is called a "relaxation reflex" and can cause a tingling sensation.

Muscles and ligaments

Your chest rests on the pectoral muscles, which run from the breastbone to the collarbone and armpit. Its main purpose is to control the movement of the arm and shoulder, but they are also related to the chest.

The breasts themselves do not contain muscles. Instead, they are supported by a scaffold of semi-elastic fibrous tissue called Cooper's ligaments, which form a hammock for the breast tissue to hold its shape. These ligaments run from the clavicle and rib cage throughout the breast to the skin of the areola. As we age, these ligaments often stretch, causing the breasts to sag.

Hair follicles

Hair follicles are found on the outside of the breast, usually on the surface of the areola. Due to these follicles, several hairs often grow on the areola or breast skin. If this bothers you, cut them out carefully . Taking them out with forceps can be painful and can open the way to infection.

Frequently asked questions

What parts of the breast produce milk?

Milk is produced in the lobes of the breast. From there, the milk flows through the milk ducts to the nipple.

In what type of breast tissue can cancer develop?

Most breast cancers occur in the glandular tissue that contains the milk ducts, lobes, and lobules. Other areas of the breast that can be affected by cancer include the nipples and areola, but these cancers are rare.

What is the hard part of the chest called?

The hard part of the breast is made up of fibrous connective tissue, which is normal. However, if you feel unusual swelling or a hard area on your chest, see your doctor.

Get the word of drug information

The female breast is a complex organ. Understanding your anatomy and which parts have specific functions is helpful if you choose to breastfeed, as you will be able to recognize sensations (such as the tidal reflex) and understand how milk production works. It is also important to become familiar with your breasts so that you can determine what is normal for you and what is not.

If you are concerned about any changes in the look or feel of your breasts, see your doctor for an evaluation.

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