General Information

  • The female breast contains glands supported by fat and fibrous tissue.
  • The part of the gland that secretes milk and the structures that support it are known together as lobules. Groups of lobules form the lobes of the breast.
  • The lobes are separated from each other by sheets of fibrous tissue that extend from the muscles of the chest wall to the skin.
  • A single duct drains each lobe. The ducts converge to openings on the summit of the nipple. There are 15–20 ducts opening into the nipple.

  • The lymphatic system is part of the body’s natural defence, and spans the body, including the breast. Lymph is the name given to tissue fluid that drains through the lymph glands and ultimately rejoins the bloodstream.
  • There are about 10 to 30 plus lymph glands within the armpit receiving lymph from the breast.
  • Breast cancer cells can travel with lymph and lodge in lymph glands, which is why, when checking your breasts for cancer, you should also check your armpits for any abnormalities.


Lymph nodes in the female breast

Know Your Breasts

Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes and have different consistencies; sometimes, one breast is larger than the other. So it is important to know what your own breasts normally look and feel like. Women should also be aware of how their breasts feel at different times of the month. It may be easier to check your breasts at the same time each month – just after your monthly period. Pregnant women should also check their breasts – you can add it to your calendar to remind you.
Men need to check their pecks too – breast cancer can occur in men although it is less than 1% of all breast cancer (in the UK about 400 men a year).

  • Look at your breasts in a mirror with your arms at your side, and then with your arms raised.
  • Feel each breast and armpit, and up to the collarbone, regularly and at different times of the menstrual cycle.

See your doctor if you notice any of the following changes:

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin (like the skin of an orange)
  • Nipple discharge
  • New lump, or thickening in the breast tissue
  • Redness or rash on the skin or around the nipple
  • A change to the nipple, if it’s pulled in or changed position or shape
  • Unusual pain or discomfort
  • Any new difference in the appearance of your breasts (when looking at them, lifting them, or moving your arms).

Breast conditions

Breast Problems and Worries

For information on breast problems, see our pages on pain, drooping, large, small, lopsided, redness underneath, and breasts in men. For information on nipple problems, visit our pages on hairy, inverted, itchy and scaly, discharge, sore nipples during breastfeeding, and extra nipples.

CoppaFeel! Charity research shows:

  • Younger women aged 18–24 years old consistently check their boobs less than those 25–29 years old.
  • Only 30% of women aged 18–29 years old check their boobs monthly.
  • Only one-third of women would immediately visit their doctor upon discovering early signs and symptoms.
  • Only half of young women are confident to start checking their boobs.


  • 90% of 18- to 29-year-olds believe it is important to raise awareness of breast cancer amongst young women.
  • Women who are aware of CoppaFeel! are more likely to check their breasts than those who are not aware.
  • 9 out of 10 women think that cancer education should be on the national curriculum.

More information can be found here.


First published on:
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Victoria Harmer
Last updated: October 2020

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