Anatomy of the Breast A Clinical Application

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MoUSTAPHA HaMDI, ELISABETH WURINGER, InGRID SCHLENZ, RAFIC KUZBARI

Ohe breast, by definition, is "the soft protuberant body adhering to the thorax in females, in which the milk is secreted for the nourishment of infants" or "the seat of affection and emotions; the repository of consciousness, designs and secrets "

Merriam-Webster

General Anatomy

The epidermis of the nipple and areola is highly pig-mented and somewhat wrinkled, and the skin of the nipple contains numerous sebaceous and apocrine sweat glands and relatively little hair. The 15 to 25 milk ducts enter the base of the nipple, where they dilate to form the milk sinuses. Slightly below the nipple's surface, these sinuses terminate in cone-shaped ampullae. The circular areola surrounds the nipple and varies between 15 and 60 mm in diameter. Its skin contains lanugo hair, sweat glands, sebaceous glands, and Montgomery's glands, which are large, modified sebaceous glands with miniature milk ducts that open into Morgagni's tubercles in the epidermis of the areola. Deep in the areola and nipple, bundles of smooth muscle fibers are arranged radially and circularly in the dense connective tissue and longitudinally along the lactiferous ducts that extend up into the nipple. These muscle fibers are responsible for the contraction of the areola, nipple erection, and emptying of the milk sinuses.

The majority of the breast parenchyma extends in-feriorly from the level of the second or third rib to the inframammary fold, which is at about the level of the sixth or seventh rib, and laterally from the edge of the sternum to the anterior axillary line. The mammary tissue also extends variably into the axilla as the glandular Tail of Spence. The posterior surface of the breast rests on portions of the fasciae of the pectoralis major, serratus anterior, external abdominal oblique, and rectus abdominis muscles.

the superficial fascia I J*A j^gffT

\ ^y jiFQBaf .deep layer of the — iL3FÖ*„_[superficial fascia breast I ^xrv \ / cBjT

parenchymal / i pectoralis jSVvs. I / \VwSl_I major muscle

V\ j/ ¡1 V :Mh3äi ligaments j ^IhC \ ofCooperJ_/ ~-ifwW

subcutaneous fat

Fig. 1.1. Fascial system of the breast

Fascial and Ligamentous System (Fig. 1.1)

The mammary tissue is enveloped by the superficial fascia of the anterior thoracic wall, which continuous above with the cervical fascia and below with the superficial abdominal fascia of Camper. The superficial layer of this fascia is poorly developed, especially in the upper part of the breast. It is an indistinct fibrous-fatty layer that is connected to,but separate from, dermis and breast tissue. This superficial fascial layer can be used effectively for suspension of the high-tension wound repair of breast-contouring procedures as described by Lockwood. The deep layer is better developed, lying in part on the pectoralis fascia. Between these two fasciae is the retromammary space filled with loose tissue that allows the breast to move freely over the chest wall. Projections of the deep layer of the superficial fascia cross this retromammary space, fuse with the pectoralis fascia, and form the posterior suspensory ligaments of the breast. The breast parenchyma may accompany these fibrous processes into the pectoralis major muscle itself. Therefore, complete removal of the breast parenchyma necessitates excision

Breast Internal Pic
Fig. 1.2. a The ligamentous suspension in anatomical dissection of the right breast seen from cranio-medial [21].b Equal preparation after intraarterial injection of surgical ink into internal thoracic artery [27]

of the pectoralis fascia and a layer of muscle as well. The superficial layer and skin are linked to the deep layer by the ligaments of Cooper, which are fibrous and elastic prolongations that divide the gland into multiple septa and give suspensory support to the breast. The breast parenchyma is made up of 15 to 25 lobes of glandular tissue, each emptying into a separate milk duct terminating in the nipple.

Horizontal Septum and Ligamentous Structures

The ligamentous suspension is a regularly situated fibrous structure that acts as a guiding structure for the main nerves and vessels to the breast and nipple-are-ola complex. The ligamentous suspension is comprised of a horizontal septum, originating at the pec-toralis fascia along the fifth rib, bending upward into vertical ligaments at its medial and lateral border (Fig. 1.2). Cranially, and in an anterior direction, the vertical ligaments merge into the superficial fascia. The line of fixation of this ligamentous circle follows the borders of pectoralis major to a great extent. The horizontal septum is largely attached to the costal origin of pectoralis major along the fifth rib. The vertical ligaments follow the medial and lateral border of the muscle, and the cranial attachment of the superficial fascia corresponds to the deltopectoral groove. The ligamentous suspension can be found equally in female and male breasts.

The horizontal fibrous septum is a thin lamina of dense connective tissue that emerges from the pectoralis fascia at the level of the fifth rib and, traversing the breast from medial to lateral, extends to the middle of the nipple. It thereby divides the gland into a cranial and a caudal part. While heading to the nipple, it also divides the lactiferous ducts, emptying into the lactiferous sinuses, horizontally into two even planes of duct openings into the nipple. Thus the horizontal septum separates two anatomical units of glandular tissue (Fig. 1.3). The separation of the glandular tissue follows certain proportions insofar as the various volumes in different-sized breasts seem to be caused mainly by the cranial parenchymal layer of the horizontal septum. The cranial glandular layer in breasts of different size ranges from about 2 to about 7 cm, while the caudal glandular layer always has a constant thickness of about 2 cm. Clinically, the horizontal septum can thus act as a useful guide for achieving symmetry in breast reductions.

At its medial and lateral borders the horizontal septum becomes even denser and curves upward into vertically directed ligaments. The medial vertical ligament is a strong structure that originates from the sternum at the level of the second to the fifth rib. The lateral vertical ligament is a rather weak fibrous structure that emerges from the pectoralis fascia at the lateral edge of pectoralis minor. The horizontal septum and its vertical extensions thereby build constantly a sling of dense connective tissue that connects the gland

Fig. 1.3. a The horizontal fibrous septum seen from medially in anatomical dissection of left breast divides the breast into a cranial and a caudal glandular layer [23]. b Same view in schematic diagram [21]. c Cranial vascular layer seen from cranially in anatomical dissection after intraarterial injection of surgical ink into thora-coacromial artery [27]

Fig. 1.3. a The horizontal fibrous septum seen from medially in anatomical dissection of left breast divides the breast into a cranial and a caudal glandular layer [23]. b Same view in schematic diagram [21]. c Cranial vascular layer seen from cranially in anatomical dissection after intraarterial injection of surgical ink into thora-coacromial artery [27]

Breast Anatomy

inframammary crease

Fig. 1.4. Anterior view of left breast in schematic diagram showing the superficial (yellow) and the deep part (gray) of the ligamentous suspension inframammary crease

Fig. 1.4. Anterior view of left breast in schematic diagram showing the superficial (yellow) and the deep part (gray) of the ligamentous suspension

Fig. 1.5. Ligamentous suspension in anatomical preparation of right breast, cranial view to the thoracic wall (Fig. 1.4). This is the deep part of the ligamentous suspension, which guides the neurovascular supply to the nipple, similar to the mesentery of the intestine. The remaining parts of the breast receive no distinct vessels from the thoracic wall.

This suspensory circle of connective tissue also has a superficial part that inserts into the skin medially, caudally, and laterally, thereby defining the extent the borders of the breast (Figs. 1.4 and 1.5). The medial superficial ligament is rather weak and extends from the deep medial ligament into the overlying skin. The firm lateral superficial ligament has a strong suspensory function that it fulfills by attaching the deep lateral ligament to the axillary fascia along the midaxillary line. It produces the concavity of the armpit and thus corresponds to the suspensory ligament of the axilla. The origin of the horizontal septum from the pectoralis fascia along the fifth rib carries the weight of the breast and prevents descending of the base of the breast. A densification of Cooper's ligaments from the origin of the horizontal septum into the inframammary crease skin represents its superficial part.

The vertical ligaments merge into the superficial mammary fascia in a cranial and in an anterior direction. Thus, the ligamentous suspension also connects with the ligamenta suspensoria, described as stretching from the mammary fascia into the skin [1]. The ligamentous suspension provides sturdy fibrous structures that can be used for modeling and fixation of the gland intraoperatively, in contrast to the residual breast parenchyme, where sutures tend to cut through the tissues.

The ligamentous suspension can easily be accessed clinically, which allows for locating and maintaining the main neurovascular supply intraoperatively. The horizontal septum can be found by following the retromammary space bluntly in a caudal direction to the level of the fourth intercostal space (Fig. 1.3). Here, the retromammary space changes direction and continues as a loose areolar tissue plane that heads horizontally to the nipple. Below this easily created cleavage plane an even plane of vessels gets faintly through, which builds the cranial vascular layer. This vascular layer is caudally attached to the horizontal septum. By gentle, blunt finger dissection, the horizontal areolar plane can be progressively opened up, thereby leaving the neurovascular supply intact. The areolar plane can be followed to the nipple, which is also divided horizontally by the horizontal septum, and it may, indeed, become less distinct as it approaches the nipple (Fig. 1.3). The vertical ligaments can also be accessed by blunt dissection along the retromammary space. When following the lateral rim of the horizontal septum bluntly, the later al ligament is encountered. The medial ligament delineates the retromammary space in a medial direction.

Innervation of the Breast

In the past, the innervation of the breast received little attention in anatomic textbooks, and published reports were contradictory concerning the distribution and course of the supplying nerves. The British surgeon Sir Astley Cooper was one of the first to investigate the innervation of the breast 135 years ago, and some of his findings are still valid today. Ever since, authors have agreed that the skin of the breast and the gland is innervated by the lateral and anterior branches of the intercostal nerves; however, there is wide disagreement about which intercostal nerves are involved.

In a recent study (Schlenz et al. 2000) we determined the origin and course of the nerves supplying the breast and the nipple-areola complex.

Innervation of the Gland and the Breast Skin

The breast is innervated by the lateral and anterior cutaneous branches of the second to sixth intercostal nerves. The lateral cutaneous branches pierce the intercostal muscles and the deep fascia in the midaxil-lary line and take an inferomedial course. The second lateral cutaneous branch terminates in the axillary tail of the breast. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth lateral cutaneous branches continue on the surface of the serratus anterior for 3-5 cm. At the border of the pectoral muscle they divide into a deep and a superficial branch. The deep branch courses below or within the pectoral fascia to the midclavicular line, where it turns for almost 90° to run through the gland, giving off several branches (Figs. 1.6 and 1.7). The superficial branch runs in the subcutaneous tissue and terminates in the skin of the lateral breast (Figs. 1.6 and 1.7).

The anterior cutaneous branches innervate the medial portion of the breast. After piercing the fascia in the parasternal line they divide into a lateral and a medial branch. While the medial branch crosses the lateral border of the sternum, the lateral branch divides again into several smaller branches, which take an inferolateral course through the subcutaneous tissue. They become progressively more superficial along their way and terminate in the breast skin or at the areolar edge (Figs. 1.6 and 1.8). The supraclavicular nerves terminate in the skin of the superior part of the breast.

Breast Nerve
Fig. 1.6. Schematic drawing of breast and anterior (ACB) and lateral cutaneous branches (LCB) of fourth intercostal nerve innervating the nipple and areola. (Reprinted with permission from Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins: Plast Reconstr Surg 105:905,2000)

Fig. 1.7. Lateral view of a left breast (double asterisk: lateral cutaneous branch of the fourth intercostal nerve reaching the posterior surface of the nipple; asterisk: cutaneous divisions of the lateral cutaneous branches terminating in the skin and gland of the lateral breast)

Innervation of the Nipple and Areola

Lateral Cutaneous Branches (Table 1.1)

Fig. 1.8. Anterior view of a right breast: asterisks: third and fourth anterior cutaneous branch terminating at the medial border of the areola (Reprinted with permission from Lippin-cott,Williams and Wilkins: Plast Reconstr Surg 105:905,2000)

Fig. 1.8. Anterior view of a right breast: asterisks: third and fourth anterior cutaneous branch terminating at the medial border of the areola (Reprinted with permission from Lippin-cott,Williams and Wilkins: Plast Reconstr Surg 105:905,2000)

Innervation of the Nipple and Areola

The innervation of the nipple and areola shows frequent variations in the course and distribution of the supplying nerves, which explains the controversial findings of previous studies. The nipple and areola are always innervated by both the anterior and lateral cutaneous branches of the third, fourth, or fifth intercostal nerves. But the number, distribution, and size of these nerves vary: the more numerous the nerves, the smaller are their diameters.

Lateral Cutaneous Branches (Table 1.1)

The fourth lateral cutaneous branch is the most constant nerve to the nipple - it supplies the nipple in 93 % of breasts. In 79 % of breasts it is the only lateral nerve to the nipple. Other possible patterns of nerve supply to the nipple are summarized in Table 1.1. The two lateral cutaneous branches of the third and fourth intercostal nerves can also form an anastomosis lateral to the border of the pectoral muscle and supply the nipple with the resulting single nerve branch. Another possibility is the division of the lateral cutaneous

Table 1.1. Innervation of the nipple-areola complex; ICN,inter-costal nerve plasty indicate a better preservation of sensitivity after inferior pedicle techniques in comparison to superior pedicle techniques and are in keeping with these findings. However, since variations are possible, breast surgery is still associated with the risk of impairing the sensitivity of the nipple and areola.

Blood Supply of the Breast

Table 1.1. Innervation of the nipple-areola complex; ICN,inter-costal nerve

Lateral cutaneous branches of ICN

Anterior cutaneous branches of ICN

3rd

3.5%

3rd

21.4%

4th

79.0%

4th

7.1 %

5th

3.5%

3rd and 4th

57.1 %

3rd, 4th

7.0%

4th and 5th

10.7%

4th, 5th

7.0%

3rd, 4th, and 5th

3.5%

Arterial System branch of the fourth intercostal nerve into two smaller branches,both of which reach the posterior surface of the nipple within a short distance of each other.

In 93 % of breasts, the deep branches of the lateral cutaneous nerves innervate the nipple,running below or within the pectoral fascia. On reaching the midclavicular line they turn almost 90° and continue through the glandular tissue toward the posterior surface of the nipple, which they enter with several tiny branches (Figs. 1.6 and 1.7). In 7% of breasts the superficial branch of the lateral cutaneous nerves innervates the nipple. These nerves run in the subcutaneous tissue close to the skin and reach the nipple from the lateral side.

The anterior cutaneous branches contribute to the medial innervation of the nipple-areola complex. The branches that terminate at the areolar edge originate from the third, fourth, or fifth intercostal nerves. They always reach the areolar edge between the 8 and 11 o'clock position in the left breast and between the 1 and 4 o'clock position in the right breast (Figs. 1.6 and 1.8). Innervation can derive from the third and fourth anterior cutaneous branches (57.1%).

The innervation of the nipple and areola is very complex due to frequent variations of the course and distribution of the supplying nerves. The most common innervation pattern is a lateral innervation by the fourth lateral cutaneous branch, which takes a "deep" course within the pectoralis fascia and reaches the nipple from its posterior surface, and a medial innervation by the third and fourth anterior cutaneous branches, which take a "superficial" course within the subcutaneous tissue and reache the medial areolar edge. These nerves are best protected if surgical resection at the base of the breast and skin incisions at the medial edge of the areola are avoided. Studies on nipple sensitivity before and after reduction mamma-

Three main arterial routes supply the breast: the internal mammary artery, the lateral thoracic artery, and the intercostal arteries (Fig. 1.9).

1. The internal mammary artery, a branch of the subclavian artery, provides approximately 60% of total breast flow, mainly to the medial portion, by anterior and posterior perforating branches (Fig. 1.10). The anterior perforating branches exit their respective intercostal spaces approximately 2 cm laterally to the sternum. The second and third anterior perforating branches are by far the most significant. The first and fourth are less constant. These branches run within the subcutaneous tissue of the breast and may be found 0.5 to 1 cm from the medial surface of the skin. They course inferiorly and laterally to anastomose with branches of the lateral thoracic artery at the nipple. Anastomoses with the intercostal arteries occur less frequently. The posterior perforating branches exit more laterally from the intercostal spaces and supply the posterior aspect of the breast.

2. The lateral thoracic artery arises from the axillary artery or, rarely, from the thoracoacromial or subscapular artery. This artery supplies up to 30 % of breast blood flow to the lateral and upper outer portions of the breast. The branches course infero-medially within the subcutaneous tissue to effect anastomoses with branches of the internal mammary and intercostal arteries in the areolar area. Because there is often more subcutaneous tissue laterally than medially, they are frequently found from 1 to 2.5 cm from the skin surface. As the areola is approached, all of these vessels become more superficial.

3. The third, fourth, and fifth posterior intercostal arteries are the least important of the arteries supplying the breast. Originating from the aorta, they course in the intercostal spaces and mainly supply the inferoexternal quadrant of the breast. Additional minor sources of arterial supply to the breast include branches from the axillary artery, the thoracic artery, the subscapular artery, and the pectoral branches of the thoracoacromial artery.

Anterior Cutaneous Branches (Table 1.1)

Main Artery Under Left Breast
Fig. 1.9. Three main arterial routes supplying the breast: internal mammary artery (IM), lateral thoracic (LT) artery, and intercostal (IC) arteries
Nipple Areolar Complex
Fig. 1.10. Injection study on cadavers shows communicating branches of IM and LT vessels, which run in the subcutaneous tissue provide the main blood supply to the nipple-areola complex (cross)

The venous drainage of the breast is divided into a superficial system and a deep system. 1. The superficial system lies just below the superficial layer of the superficial fascia and has been classified into two main types: transverse and longitudinal. The transverse veins (91%) run medially in the subcutaneous tissues and join perforating ves sels that empty into the internal mammary vein. Longitudinal vessels (9 %) ascend to the suprasternal notch and empty into the superficial veins of the lower neck. 2. Three groups of veins are involved in the deep drainage system of the breast:

(a) Perforating branches of the internal mammary vein, which are the largest vessels of the deep system and empty into the corresponding innominate veins.

(b) Tributaries of the axillary vein.

(c) Perforating branches of posterior inercostal veins. These veins communicate with the vertebral veins and the azygos vein, which leads to the superior vena cava.

All three of these venous pathways lead to the pulmonary capillary network and provide a route for metastatic carcinoma emboli to the lungs. The vertebral system of veins provides an entirely different metastatic route. These veins form a vertebral venous plexus and provide a direct venous pathway for metastases to bones of the spine, pelvis, femur, shoulder girdle, humerus, and skull.

Blood Supply of the Nipple-Areola Complex

The main blood supply to the nipple-areola complex is provided by branches of the internal mammary and lateral thoracic artery, which run in the subcutaneous tissue and communicate with each other above and below the areola. Small branches derived from the communicating vessels were found running toward the nipple-areola complex (Fig. 1.10). These small vessels reach the base of the nipple, giving off fine vessels to the areolar skin, and ascend into the nipple in a circular fashion. These ascending vessels arborize in the upper and middle thirds of the nipple.

The periareolar dermal and subdermal plexus, which provide the anatomic base for preserving the nipple-areola complex in reduction mammaplasties, were found not to be particularly vascular and not to anastomose widely with the plexus in the nipple-are-ola complex. A medial or a lateral glandular pedicle provides the best blood supply to the nipple-areola complex by including these communicating branches within the subcutaneous tissue. A pure central pedicle must be wide enough to incorporate enough fine vessels of the thoracacromial artery to provide adequate blood supply. A superior pedicle should be large enough to include subdermal connections to the lateral and medial communication vessels. In the inferior pedicle, the blood supply comes from cutaneous perforators of the fourth and/or fifth intercostal arteries, which are usually large.

The Venous Drainage

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Central Pedicle Technique

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