Despite what many media outlets, tastemakers, and the people who manufacture those little rubber chicken cutlet bra-stuffing things would have you believe, there is no such thing as a normal breast. Regular, healthy breasts come in all different sizes and shapes, and can (and often do) include stretch marks, visible veins, dark or large areolas, or nipple hair — check out this (NSFW) gallery of different healthy breasts if you don't believe me. Oh, and because I know you're wondering — yes, almost no one's breasts are the same exact size. Mine sure as hell aren't! (I call the big one "Maine" and the little one "Rhode Island.")
So there's no reason to be concerned if your breasts do not look like those depicted in porn, beer ads, or '80s teen sex comedies (in all three of those cases, I can assure you that those boobs are absolutely slathered in foundation). But there are times when you should be concerned about your boobs — not because they don't look airbrush-perfect, but because they're showing symptoms that might mean that something is amiss, health-wise. So which breast abnormalities mean you should make you an appointment with your doctor to get your Olsen Twins checked out? And which are just a totally normal boob quirk? Read on, and learn about the 4 situations where your boobs may be trying to tell you that they're in trouble.
Should I Be Worried?: Sometimes
Into most of our lives, a little nip discharge shall fall. Ever if we're not pregnant or nursing, our breasts can sometimes emit a discharge after they've been squeezed or irritated (say, by a shirt made out of a particularly rough fabric, or a very crappy sex partner). However, though discharge is not usually a sign of breast cancer, the website for the Mayo Clinic advises that you see a doctor if your breast discharge continues for several weeks. You may also want to see a doctor if your breast discharge is bloody, if the discharge is only coming out of one boob, or if discharge comes out without your breast being squeezed, rubbed, or otherwise irritated. Discharge can be tied to a wide range of medical conditions, from infection to ductal carcinoma in situ, an early form of breast cancer, and there are even certain medications that can cause discharge in healthy women — so it's pretty impossible to judge for yourself. So when in doubt, leave analyzing your boob goo to the pros.
Should I Be Worried?: Sometimes
As previously noted, breasts come in all makes and models, and sometimes, your model is "lumpy." Folks with fibrocystic breast disease have breasts that feel lumpy to the touch and can get very sensitive and painful, especially around your period, when they can become lumpier. Folks with FBC may also have a single lump that grows in size over the course of their cycle, and becomes smaller after their period finishes. Fibrocystic breast disease can be unpleasant, but it's no threat to your health — your gynecologist can diagnose it in an exam, so if you keep wigging out because you're worried about your lumpy bosoms, make an appointment for your peace of mind.
However, new lumps, bumps, and swollen areas on your breasts are serious business. There are definitely many harmless kinds of breast lumps — by some estimates, 80 to 85 percent of breast lumps are benign, a category that includes rubbery benign tumors called fibroadenomas and squishy breast cysts — but it's pretty impossible to tell a benign tumor from a dangerous breast lump on your own. So if any new lumps turn up on or around your breasts (including around the area where your breast and armpit connect), if pre-existing lumps grow bigger, or if you find unexplained bruising on your breast, a newly inverted nipple, or bumpy, dimpled skin on the surface of your breast, make it a priority to make an appointment with your gyno.
Should I Be Worried?: Probably Not
As you may have noticed, your breasts are made out of a few different tissues, and one of them is fat. The fat in your breasts — medically known as "adipose tissue" — is the part that may swell up under a few different circumstances. Many of us experience breast swelling as part of the festival of fun that is PMS, but we can also experience the joy of painfully blown-up casabas at other times of the month — like if we consume too much caffeine, if we get pregnant, or if we have mastitis, a breast infection usually found in nursing mothers. Swelling is rarely tied to breast cancer, though if your breasts are swelling independent of your menstrual cycle, and are also changing in texture, talking to a doctor is a good bet.
Should I Be Worried?: Probably Not.
Much like its evil twin breast swelling, breast tenderness is probably familiar to any of us who have dealt with PMS (especially those of us who have had, say, the misfortune of getting hit in the boob with a softball during the week before our period). Most of us are familiar with breast pain as part of the PMS package, but you may be a little surprised and unnerved when your girls start aching at other times of the month.
However, breast tenderness is rarely a symptom of cancer. Instead, your breast tenderness is more likely linked to hormone fluctuations within your body, or extreme stress. It could be linked to an infection, like the above-mentioned mastitis, or even a pulled pectoral muscle. So while you may want to see a doctor about the pain in your peaches — your doc may be able to suggest lifestyle changes that will help your breasts stop feeling so sensitive that you practically expect them to start an emo band — the odds are low that you need to worry about anything except, you know, your boobs hurting.