In this clip, Dr. Harness explains how breast tissue in the armpit develops and how to proceed if you feel a suspicious lump in that area.
Jay K. Harness, MD: Breast tissue can occur in locations other than what we normally think about. A good example of this is what is called aberrant breast tissue that can occur well up here in the armpit area, actually disconnected from the tail of the breast, or there can be an extension of the normal tissue of the tail of the breast well up into the armpit area.
In embryology, we talk about what is called the milk duct line. It is a line that runs from here down through the breast into the upper abdomen, and in my career I have seen nipple, accessory nipples and areolas up here in the armpit area down here in the upper abdomen and places of this sort.
So finding breast tissue in the armpit area is not that unusual at all, and as a matter of fact, one of the times that it can become very prominent during pregnancy is the breast is being stimulated and growing. This area can be quite a prominent. In fact this is exactly what happened in my daughter’s situation, in a previous video that I have shared some time ago about the scare that I had that perhaps my daughter might have breast cancer.
So, the question then becomes, “If we have breast tissue up here, in the armpit area, what do we do about it?” Well if it is associated with an accessory nipple, then removing that accessory ripple and areola along with some of the underlying breast tissue, can be helpful both functionally and cosmetically.
Also if the tissue becomes prominent during pregnancy, then it is important for anyone that this is happening to, to see a competent breast surgeon who hopefully is working with breast radiologists and one of the simplest tests that can be done is actually doing ultrasound of this area confirming that it is breast tissue. Occasionally, even a core biopsy could be helpful in the evaluation of all of these.
Now, okay, knowing the tissue is there, now what? Well once a pregnancy is finished, usually the prominent tissue retracts down and is not a problem. Only occasionally in my experience, is there so much pain or a lump associated there, that we actually need to operate and take that tissue out. In my own practice, this happens perhaps once a year or so.
So the bottom line is, do not be alarmed. Obviously, if there is any new lump in the armpit area make sure that it is worked out by competent breast surgeon and radiologist. Yes it is true that a breast cancer can present as an enlarged lymph node in the armpit area so, obviously we will want to know that and make sure that that is not what we are dealing with because they will require a whole different kind of workup.
So again the bottom line always is, see competent people, work with a Center that is really familiar with breast cancer, diagnostic work ups, any other kind of breast problem workups. If you do that you will feel good about it and, occasionally, you might need to have the tissue actually remove.
Dr. Jay K. Harness is a board certified surgeon currently treating patients at St. Joesph Hospital in Orange, CA. Dr. Harness specializes in complete breast health, breast cancer surgery, oncoplastic reconstruction, genetic screening, management of breast health issues, risk assessment and counseling. Dr. Harness is the medical director for Breast Cancer Answers.com, and guides this first ever social media show’s information by drawing on his former leadership experience as the President of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and Breast Surgery International. Dr. Harness graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1969 and spent time early on in his career at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
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