Breast tissue is a complicated arrangement of tissues closely tied to nerves, blood vessels and fatty tissues, also called adipose tissue. When physicians refer to this tissue, they tend to mean the tissues that build into the mammary glands.
Breast tissue that is milk producing is often called mammary glands. It may be described as having multiple mammary glands, or may be described as having a single mammary gland that is composed of nodes called lobules. These lobules join together to form a milk duct, which can produce milk.
Adipose cells often separate these individual lobules in breast tissue. One can almost always feel the milk ducts upon breast self-exam. In fact, recognizing ducts is an important part of understanding one’s body, so that other lumps felt can be differentiated from normal tissue.
At the areola, the darkish skin surrounding the nipple, special glands secrete a substance similar to sweat that is vital to the nursing mother. It helps to lubricate the nipple when nursing a baby, so that nipples don’t become chapped or sore. One may notice that this breast tissue appears to have what looks like tiny whiteheads around it. These are not in fact pimples, but are the lubrication material needed for protecting nipples when nursing.
Breast tissue extends to under the arms. Those performing a breast self-exam should examine not only the tissue of the breasts, but feel to up under the arms as well, as this material is considered part of the breast.
In eight out of ten cases, breast cancer occurs in the mammary ducts. In most other cases, breast cancer occurs in the tiny lobules forming the ducts. If one notes significant changes in the mammary ducts, or lumps below them, and one is not nursing, these should be brought to the attention of a medical professional as soon as possible.
Male breast tissue is slightly different than that of females. Men have a few ducts, which are not capable of producing milk. Men also tend to have less fatty tissue, unless overweight, than do women, since they do not need functional breasts that rely on fat storage as part of a milk-producing unit.
Though relatively rare, men can get breast cancer. Breast tissue affected is usually one or more of the undeveloped mammary ducts. To be on the safe side, men should probably perform a breast self-exam every few months to rule out this rare but dangerous form of cancer.