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A Review of Anatomy, Physiology, and Benign Pathology of the Nipple

  • Breast Oncology
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The nipple and areola are pigmented areas of modified skin that connect with the underlying gland of the breast via ducts. The fairly common congenital anomalies of the nipple include inversion, clefts, and supernumerary nipples. The anatomy of the nipple areolar complex is discussed as a foundation to review anatomical variants, and the physiologic development of the nipple, including changes in puberty and pregnancy, as well as the basis of normal physiologic discharge, are addressed. Skin conditions affecting the nipple include eczema, which, while similar to eczema occurring elsewhere on the body, poses unique aspects in terms of diagnosis and treatment. This article concludes with discussion on the benign abnormalities that develop within the nipple, including intraductal papilloma and nipple adenoma.

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Special thanks to Stefanie Jeffrey, MD, for her thoughtful edits, as well as Fred Dirbas, MD, and Irene Wapnir, MD, and to Barbara L. Smith, MD, PhD, for her permission to use Fig. 2, and her groundbreaking work on nipple anatomy.


Kimberly Stone and Amanda Wheeler have no disclosures to declare.

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Correspondence to Amanda Wheeler MD.

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Stone, K., Wheeler, A. A Review of Anatomy, Physiology, and Benign Pathology of the Nipple. Ann Surg Oncol 22, 3236–3240 (2015).

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