The breasts

The breasts

Breasts are made up of fat, supportive (connective) tissue and glandular tissue containing lobes. The lobes (milk glands) are where breast milk is made. They connect to the nipple by a network of fine tubes called ducts.

It’s common for a woman’s breasts to be a different size or shape from each other. They also feel different at different times of the month. For example, just before a period your breasts may feel lumpy. As you get older, your breasts may become smaller and softer.

Breast side view
Breast side view

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The lymphatic system

The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood. The lymphatic system is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels that connect to groups of lymph nodes throughout the body.

Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) are small and bean-shaped. They filter bacteria (germs) and disease from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection lymph nodes often swell as they fight the infection.

Sometimes, cancer can spread through the lymphatic system. If the cancer cells spread outside the breast, they are most likely to go to lymph nodes in the armpit as the breast tissue extends into this area. There are also lymph nodes near the breastbone and behind the collarbone. You will usually have your lymph nodes checked for cancer cells.

Breast lymph nodes
Breast lymph nodes

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Back to Understanding breast cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Cancer and cell types

Cancers are grouped into types. Types of cancer often behave and respond to treatments in different ways.

How it is treated

There are five main types of cancer treatment. You may receive one, or a combination of treatments, depending on your cancer type.

Types of breast cancer

Your doctor will talk to you about which type of breast cancer you have.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.