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Breast Health and the Lymphatic System

Breast cancer, the most commonly occurring cancer in women and second most common overall, affects over 2 million women every year. Data suggests that 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, with one person being diagnosed every 10 minutes. The high incidence of breast cancer means that learning more about breast health and emphasizing regular checks is of the essence now more than ever.

The breasts have a network of blood vessels, commonly known as the vascular system, and lymph channels, also known as the lymphatic system. These carry blood and lymph fluid back and forth from the breast tissue to the rest of the body, as sorts of ‘highways’ primarily concerned with nourishment and supporting cell life.

The lymphatic system in the breast and the rest of the body is made from a network of tiny vessels which collect fluid and waste products and transport them to the small glands, known as lymph nodes.  In the lymph nodes, potentially harmful substances such as bacteria and cancer cells can be trapped and removed to protect the body from infection.

Breast cancer usually occurs in the inner lining of milk glands. From there, the cancer cells can enter the lymphatic vessels and begin to grow in the lymph nodes. This increases the risk of the cancer traveling to other parts of the body or returning in the future; that’s why it’s critical to find out whether the cancerous cells have spread to the lymphatic system.

Breath health and the functioning of the lymphatic system are tightly intertwined. It’s good practice to perform monthly breast self-examination by feeling the lymph nodes around the breasts. However, keep in mind that if they are enlarged or hardened, this doesn’t necessarily suggest the presence of cancer cells but rather, a common infection.

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