Montgomery glands, sometimes also referred to by their more technical name “areolar glands,” are small glands located on the areola of the female breast that produce an oily secretion designed to keep the nipple moisturized and protected. Lubrication is particularly important during breastfeeding, and as a consequence the glands often work the hardest in lactating women; oily secretions are a normal part of breast health, though, and can be triggered by ordinary stimulation, too. The glands are generally sensitive, and blockages and other problems can lead to serious consequences.
Appearance and Location
Most women have between five and 20 Montgomery glands on each breast, and they are located just below the surface of the areola. The areola is the circular area of darkened skin surrounding the nipple. The primary reason for the discoloration of this area is that the areola roughly outlines the location of the mammary glands, which is where milk is produced and travels to the nipples through a network of lobules and ducts.
Even though the glands sit right on the surface of the skin they aren’t usually visible under normal conditions. Certain hormonal triggers will cause them to bump up slightly, though. Pregnancy is one example: pregnant women often experience small raised pink or red bumps, often in a ring formation around the nipple, when the glands are stimulated. Arousal and pressure, often from tight-fitting clothes or bras, can also trigger this reaction. These bumps are usually considered very normal, and they usually subside on their own with time.
Basic Role and Function
The glands are named for the Irish obstetrician William Fetherstone Montgomery, who was the first to identify what, exactly, their role was back in the 1800s. He surmised that the oily secretions that happen during stimulation and breastfeeding were coming not from the milk ducts themselves, but rather from a separate glandular area that simply responded to triggers in those regions. Modern breast science has confirmed that he was correct.
Nipples are made of somewhat sensitive tissues that are more prone to environmental dryness and irritation than normal skin. The main job of the glands is to secrete enough natural oils to keep them moisturized and protected against the outside world. In most cases surface oils can also serve to keep foreign objects out by creating something of a surface barrier at the nipple’s tip.
Importance to Breastfeeding
Regular nipple lubrication is important, but it is perhaps most crucial during breastfeeding. Infant suckling and regular milk production can cause the nipples to dry and crack, which can be both painful and potentially harmful to mom and baby alike. When the glands are working properly, they keep the whole areola area balanced and moist.
Some medical experts also think that the oils could help stimulate babies’ appetites, particularly right after birth. Something in the oil’s smell might trigger the region in the newborn brain that controls hunger, they say, though research on this particular aspect is somewhat scant.
Infection and Irritation
The Montgomery glands’ position right on the surface of the breast means that they are sometimes susceptible to infection or irritation. Infection is often related to mastitis, a problem involving the mammary glands as well as surrounding glands and tissue. It is most common in lactating women, and medical treatment is almost always required in order to get rid of the infection and keep it from spreading.
A condition commonly referred to as “jogger's nipple” also involves irritation of these glands. The correct term for this condition is “fissure of the nipple,” and it happens whenever the nipples are subjected to repeated, constant stimulation that overwhelms the glands’ ability to keep up with adequate lubrication levels. The “jogging” name comes because it happens a lot when sports bras or shirts chafe the skin during exercise. Common symptoms include dryness, soreness, or bleeding involving one or both nipples. Some medications can help speed healing, but in most cases time and reduced friction are the only cures.
Certain medical problems can also cause the glands to clog or stop working properly, which can lead to a host of other problems. Dryness and itching are usually near the top of the list, but clogged ducts, swelling, and breast tenderness are also generally included. It’s usually rare for problems to strike the Montgomery glands alone — usually problems happen elsewhere in the areola and mammary glands at the same time — but it is possible. Usually only a medical professional can make the distinction and final determination, though.
Problem Solving Tips
One of the best ways for people to avoid problems with these glands is for them to work at keeping their nipples protected. Joggers and runners should find sports bras that fit properly, for instance, and if pressure is still a problem it may make sense to place a bandage over the nipples before beginning an exercise regiment. The bandage will act as an effective barrier between the skin and clothing. Surgical tape often works as well to prevent damage from occurring.
Nursing moms also sometimes look for additional lubrication in the form of lanolin or other natural oils. Applying these to the nipple before and after breastfeeding can help augment the lubrication provided by the glands, though it’s really important in these circumstances that the substances are safe for babies to ingest. Not all lotions and oils that help lubricate the skin are necessarily suitable for breastfeeding.
When we think of breast tissue, we seldom consider including men in the health concerns governing this sensitive topic. But, one in a hundred men are affected by breast cancer too.
Men and women are born with nipples and Montgomery glands. These nearly invisible sebaceous glands (tubercles) secrete an oily lubricant to protect our nipples and areolas.
Two of the most common cancers affecting women affect men also. Even their symptoms may be similar. The downside is that men seldom discuss this issue with their partners or family doctors.
Another problem with detecting breast cancer in men is that people often associate breast cancer with mature age. But breast cancer can affect men of all ages.
Montgomery Glands and Breast Cancer in Men
Men who received breast cancer diagnosis and intervention early benefit from a better success rate. Chemotherapy and radiation therapies are common treatments and medical solutions. But their success varies per patient's needs. Often, surgery to remove the affected tissue is the first recourse.
According to the CDC, these are men's most prevalent breast cancer types.
Invasive ductal carcinoma: In the early stage, cancer cells involve and start in the breast ducts and gradually spread outside and into the breast tissue. These invasive cells continue to grow and can metastasize and affect other body parts.
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): may become invasive breast cancer. The cancer cells are present in the lining of the breast ducts but have not invaded other breast tissue.
Invasive lobular carcinoma: Cells form in the lobules (breast milk glands) and invade surrounding breast tissue. This form of carcinoma may spread throughout other parts of the body. However, lobular cancer seldom affects men as they have fewer milk-producing glands.
Paget's (PAJ-its) Disease of the breast (mammary or nipple):PAJ is rare, begins in the nipple, and spreads to the areola. It is not the same as Paget's disease of the bone. PAJ develops in some patients after 50 years of age. These patients often have ductal breast cancer (in situ or invasive breast cancer). PAJ seldom only involves just the nipple.
Male Breast Cancer Symptoms
While symptoms may vary or be more pronounced in some patients, they can include:
- A sore lesion with a lump or thickening
- The appearance of the skin may change to redness, scaling, or texturing like dimples and puckers
- Nipple (areola) may show signs of prolonged redness, scaling, or turns inward
- Unknown liquid draining from the nipple
Although other non-related conditions can cause similar symptoms, consult a medical professional.
Causes and Root Source of Breast Cancer in Men
Despite ongoing research, the causes of male breast cancer remain difficult to determine.
Research suggests that male breast cancer happens when 'some' cells divide quicker than healthy breast cells. These cells form into a tumor, may involve surrounding tissue, and eventually metastasize. This affects lymph nodes and then spreads throughout the body.
Humans are born with breast tissue, including milk glands (lobules), milk-carrying ducts, and fat.
As males and females grow, puberty affects those changes. Men don't develop more breast tissue like women. But they may still develop breast cancer. They have some residual breast tissue, nipples, Montgomery glands, and areolas.
Male Breast Cancer Factors
Certain markers put men at risk for having or developing male breast cancer. Inherited mutated genes put some men at greater risk of developing breast and prostate cancers. So, a history of cancer in the family may be an indicator. Genetic testing to assess those genes is a safe way of combating the risk factors.
- Age is often a factor. More men receive a diagnosis in their 60s.
- Hormone therapy treatments for prostate cancer (like estrogen) increase the risk.
- Klinefelter's Syndrome (more than one X chromosome) produces abnormal levels of male hormones and increases female hormones.
- Liver disease also influences the balance of male and female hormones in male bodies.
- Obesity in males causes an abnormal level of estrogen in male bodies.
Caring for Male Montgomery Glands
Healthy male nipples and areola don't need unique treatments. Washing with soap and water, moisturizing, and using SPF are healthy choices.
But, male nipples and Montgomery glands don't produce a nipple discharge. In the event of liquid oozing from a man's nipple, it could point to an infection, adverse reactions to medication, or signs of breast cancer.
A physician will determine the cause, but it may need further investigation. Sobering statistics suggest that this year 530 men will die from breast cancer.