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In Depth: Chest

A woman’s chest — like the rest of her body — is covered with skin that has two layers.

  • The epidermis is the outermost layer that provides a protective, waterproof seal over the body.
  • The dermis is the under layer that contains sweat glands, hair follicles, blood vessels, and more.

Changes in the skin’s surface can be signs of larger problems, such as the development of breast cancer, breast infection, or varying skin problems. Some common outward signs of problems with a woman’s breast can include:

  • Redness or discoloration
  • Hardening and flaking of the skin
  • Acne, rash, or blisters
  • Inverted nipple
  • Bloody discharge from nipple

Although some problems can arise on the surface, there are some signs that hide just below it. For example, women should regularly check for lumps in their breasts. A lump might mean breast cancer, but there are other causes for benign (noncancerous) breast lumps. These include:

  • Breast infection
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Fibroadenoma (noncancerous tumor)
  • Fat necrosis (damaged tissue)

Breast pain — clinically called mastalgia — is a common symptom. There are several causes that can contribute to this pain, including:

  • Hormone fluctuation caused by menstruation or the menstrual cycle
  • Birth control pills; breast pain is a side effect of some pills
  • A bra that doesn't fit
  • Stress
  • Mastitis (breast infection)

Breast lump, pain, and tenderness are the symptoms most often associated with breast cancer. Other symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • Nipple discharge
  • Inverted nipple
  • Visible veins on the breast
  • Enlargement of one breast
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • A waxy, “orange peel” texture to the skin
  • Vaginal pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit area

Underneath the skin, all humans have a rib cage, which protects organs underneath, including the heart, lungs, liver, and more.

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