A young 26-year-old mother began to complain of severe discomfort under her armpit two days after giving birth. Attended at the Santa Maria Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, the specialists Cristiana Marinho-Soares and Maria Pulido-Valente detected an axillary mass consistent with a diagnosis of polymastia, that is, of “more than two breasts” in the same body. To the surprise of all those involved, however, when the doctors pressed the lump, it began to secrete a whitish liquid not very different from the breast milk that the patient was producing, relates the article published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Polymastia occurs in humans when, during gestation, the breast tissue extends ectopically beyond the pectoral area and the area that forms the breasts. It is estimated, according to data from the Mayo Clinic, that between 1% and 5% of women can suffer from this condition. It is usually benign and can go completely unnoticed: axillary polymastia, as the Portuguese patient suffered, is the most common, due to its proximity in the so-called “mammary crest”.
This crest is common to female mammals, and extends from the inside of the armpit to the breasts, descending through the abdomen and reaching the pubis and the inner thighs. The likelihood of ectopic breast tissue reaching this far in humans is very rare, and even more so that it will be activated as productive lactating glands after delivery, but it is have come to document the case of a woman who produced milk through her vagina after giving birth by having precisely a “third breast” at that location.
Polymastia is also responsible for the appearance of cases of “third nipple” or areolas – the colored part that surrounds the nipple – along the line that describes the mammary ridge. In the case of the Portuguese patient, these anomalous elements were absent, but both the postpartum breast mass and her ‘milk’ production were remarkable. Cases have been described in which the woman has had to express extra ‘breast’ milk to reduce its volume and discomfort.
On the other hand, although the condition is benign and tends to disappear once breastfeeding is stopped, this breast tissue can also become cancerous, a worrying fact given that breast cancer is the most prevalent among women. The Lisbon patient received the recommendation to submit her ‘third breast’ to the same gynecomastia check-ups to prevent these tumors. If medical criteria support it, on the other hand, it is not uncommon for this ectopic breast tissue to be excised in an operation similar to breast reduction.
On the other hand, this unusual case has nothing to do with an urban legend linked to vaccination against Covid especially among the younger population: that new vaccines can make breasts grow. What can occur is a temporary swelling of the axillary nodes, which causes an increase in volume for a few days in the area.
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