By Pam Stephan
Updated April 04, 2014
Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.
Nipples and areolas can vary in size, shape and coloration, so resist comparing them to any others.
Inversion or Retraction:
Nipples and areolas may become a bit bumpy when you get cold, but this should subside when your skin warms up. When doing your monthly breast self-exam, you may discover persistent bumps or lumps on or just beneath your nipple or areola. If you do, see your doctor to confirm what's causing these lumps. It could be plugged milk ducts, an intraductal papilloma, or an infection.
Tiny bumps on your areola could be Montgomery glands. You may need to have a ductogram or a fine needle biopsy done to determine the true nature of a nipple lump. Sometimes a lump beneath your nipple or areola is ductal carcinoma in situ, a highly treatable form of early-stage breast cancer.
During pregnancy, your breasts will change in response to hormones. As your breasts prepare for breastfeeding, your nipple and areola should become darker in color, and your areola may become larger. Regardless of whether you are pregnant or not, watch out for these skin changes: thickened skin, orange peel texture, inflamed appearance, warmer than normal skin temperature, or change of nipple direction. You may have an ordinary rash or breast infection, but get it checked by a doctor to make sure it is not Paget's disease of the nipple or inflammatory breast cancer.
Your breasts may swell in response to your menstrual cycle, or when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Don't be surprised if your nipple and areola also grow somewhat during pregnancy. This is a normal change. However, if one breast grows larger than the other, or exhibits skin changes, be sure to have a clinical breast exam to determine the cause.
Breast cancer can cause a gradual or sudden asymmetrical change in breast size. If you breasts are normally asymmetrical, not to worry -- few of us are perfectly balanced. It is a change in size that can cause concern.
If you have persistent nipple tenderness, itchiness, or pain that’s not related to your menstrual cycle, it could be related to breastfeeding problems, infections, or intraductal papillomas. You could try home treatment for nipple pain, but if the discomfort does not subside, visit your doctor.
Nipple-Areolar Complex: Normal Anatomy and Benign and Malignant Processes. Brandi T. Nicholson, MD, Jennifer A. Harvey, MD and Michael A. Cohen, MD. March 2009 RadioGraphics, 29, 509-523.
Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women. National Cancer Institute. Posted: 09/28/2009
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