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Armpit Lumps in Pregnancy: What does pregnancy have to do with axillary accessory breasts?

June 18, 2023
January 29, 2024

Pregnant women with accessory breast tissue may experience potential body image issues.

Table of Contents

During pregnancy, your little bean may not be the only thing growing in your body…

You may notice lumps in the underarms but fret not; armpit lumps and accessory breast tissue during pregnancy are common.

What are accessory breasts? 

Medically known as polymastia, axillary accessory breast tissue may mimic or be misunderstood as armpit fat, as it commonly occurs in the armpit or underarm area. It is often undetected until the individual reaches puberty.

In simple terms, axillary accessory breast tissue is additional abnormal tissue found aside from the normal breasts. The tissue tends to increase in size and may cause soreness and swelling. This is due to the hormonal changes caused by pregnancy and lactation. Extra nipples may also be evidenced upon examination, and the areolas may be darkened.

How common is the occurrence of axillary/accessory breast tissue during pregnancy?

Accessory breast tissue is uncommon and only occurs in 0.4 to 6% of women. It is commonly located in the axilla, hence the name, axillary accessory breast, and has a high incidence of being misdiagnosed. Usually, it is bilateral and may present as an asymptomatic mass during pregnancy or lactation [1].

Armpit Lumps: Is it accessory breast tissue or fat?

Armpit fat is simply a fat mass around your underarm area, while the axillary accessory breast is a medical condition where the development of breast tissue is found outside the normal breast area, usually around the armpit area.

According to studies,  cancer in accessory breast tissue is extremely rare [2]. Carcinomas of primary accessory breast tissue are rare, comprising 0.3–0.6% of all breast cancers and occur most commonly in the axilla [3].

What are the symptoms of accessory breast tissue?

Symptoms of the condition include swelling and tenderness in the area, a thickened armpit, and a reduced range of motion in the shoulder. Some pregnant women with this medical condition experience milk secretion. The irritation experienced from clothing may also indicate the presence of accessory breast tissue.

Are any treatment options available for pregnant women experiencing accessory breast tissue?

If you are pregnant and are experiencing symptoms of pain and discomfort of accessory breast tissues, it is advisable for you to consult a doctor who is experienced in managing and treating this medical condition for further advice.

Are any treatment options available for pregnant women experiencing accessory breast tissue?

Is it possible for axillary/accessory breast tissue to cause complications during breastfeeding?

No, axillary accessory breast tissue typically does not cause any issues with breastfeeding.

Is accessory breasts painful?

Yes, axillary accessory breast tissue can cause pain and discomfort to an individual. Another common concern is its appearance in the cosmetic sense, which affects one’s self-confidence.

Should accessory breast tissue be removed?

Removing axillary accessory breast tissue is a welcomed and advised option, mainly when it causes pain and discomfort. For others, it is an option for cosmetic or appearance reasons.

Where is accessory breast most common?

Armpit Lumps pregnancy tail of spence
Image from Kaia Naturals 

A fact not widely known is that accessory breast tissue also occurs in about ONE to THREE per cent of men. The figures are higher for women. The tissue is usually found in the axilla - the armpit region and may be bilateral. They can also be found anywhere along the thoracoabdominal region of the milk line. 

Other possible locations include the following:

  • chest wall
  • vulva
  • knee
  • lateral thigh
  • buttock
  • face
  • ear
  • neck

How do armpit lumps develop during pregnancy? 

Pregnancy causes hormonal changes, and armpit lumps are due to the axillary extensions of breast tissue. Accessory breast tissue presence is often associated with advanced pregnancy and when milk is produced.

The body is being prepped for lactation during pregnancy. The breasts, nipples and areolas may enlarge. Breast tissue may also extend into the armpit area, which is why some women experience axillary accessory breast issues.

In addition to their normal breasts, women with axillary accessory breasts should be examined for malignancy to rule out potential cancerous issues [1]. Axillary Accessory breast tissue looks like normal breast tissue in a mammogram but is separate from the breast. The tissue also appears as normal breast tissue in ultrasonography [2].

Can accessory breast tissue cause any long-term health complications?

There is no medical indication to remove benign axillary accessory breast tissue, although there are several aesthetic and pragmatic considerations. Studies have shown that most patients presenting to doctors for treatment have cosmetic concerns. In contrast, others experience arm movement and engorgement difficulties during menstruation or are concerned about the potential for malignancy [6].

Can hormonal fluctuations affect the breast?

Hormonal changes are experienced by both men and women. So it’s no surprise that accessory breast tissue can be problematic in some men. These changes can cause the appearance of lumps. These lumps can appear at any age and, in some cases, do go away on their own.

In women, hormonal changes can cause the breasts to be swollen, painful and tender to the touch.

Will accessory breasts go away after pregnancy? 

Axillary accessory breast tissue is not an uncommon occurrence in women. It becomes more pronounced during pregnancy or after giving birth due to hormonal changes. In the armpits, the excess tissue may actually look like milk ducts. The “Tail of Spence” is a structure that extends into the armpits and can become engorged as it’s connected to the milk-producing breast tissue. During breastfeeding, it’s common for the armpit to become engorged.

Axillary accessory breast tissue does not go away; it increases or decreases in size due to hormonal fluctuations. Repeated pregnancies can cause the tissue to reappear.

Will losing weight get rid of axillary breast tissue?

Losing weight does not eliminate accessory breast tissue. The most viable option is surgical excision.

Why do I have a pea-sized lump between my armpit and breast?

Armpit Lumps are often caused by swollen lymph nodes. Also known as “pitties,” the armpits can produce milk in breastfeeding women. These ducts can become engorged and blocked. The use of warm compresses, a massage, warm baths or showers and frequent removal of the milk can help alleviate the issue. Another potential cause of armpit lump is a skin infection, such as ingrown hair or a cyst.

The psychological impact of accessory breast tissue on pregnant women

Pregnant women with axillary accessory breast tissue may experience potential body image issues. If you are deeply troubled by it, and the condition does not subside after pregnancy, you may consider accessory breast removal via surgical excision.

Post-pregnancy treatment options for accessory breasts 

Surgical excision is a practical, permanent and effective method of addressing accessory breast issues. It involves the removal of the axillary accessory tissue to relieve physical soreness, swelling and discomfort, as well as a much-improved appearance. 

The result of a successful procedure includes being free from discomfort and pain with an improved range of arm motion. Equally important, surgical excision of the accessory axillary breast tissue also improves its aesthetic appearance. 

If you have any questions regarding axillary accessory breasts, we welcome you to email us at customer@amaris-b.com.

Reference

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