Although breast cancer is a serious health threat to women, boobs shouldn’t only conjure up thoughts of mammograms, mastectomies, and medical issues. Breasts as we know them are unique to the human female body, and there are many things that most people don’t realize about them. In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, check out these crazy, fascinating, and downright weird boob facts you may not have known.
1. Human females are the only mammals whose breasts are visible at all times throughout maturity. Most animals, such as dogs, cats, and lesser primates, display swollen or enlarged mammaries only when they are pregnant or nursing their young; their breasts recede when the offspring are weaned. Evolutionary biologists think that humans’ permanently displayed breasts are intended to confuse potential mates about women’s reproductive status.
2. In Greek mythology, the universe was created when the god Zeus tricked his wife, Hera, into breastfeeding his half-human son Heracles. According to the legend, when Hera realized that the suckling infant was not her own, she pushed him away and the drops of spilled milk became the Milky Way galaxy.
3. There’s no such thing as a perfectly symmetrical set of breasts. All breasts have differences, but most discrepancies are simply too tiny to be noticed. For reasons unknown, the left breast tends to be larger than the right.
4. Two million women in the United States have breast implants. The average age at which a woman gets implants is 34.
5. In early 2009, Sheyla Hershey of Brazil was awarded the Guinness World Record for having the largest set of breasts. After nine surgeries and more than a gallon of silicone, her breasts are a size 38KKK.
6. Women who get breast implants are at least three times more likely to commit suicide, a risk that increases with time. As the August 2007 Annals of Plastic Surgery reported, it’s unlikely that silicone toxicity causes the correlation. It’s more probable that women who undergo breast augmentation are more apt to have an underlying psychiatric problem that predisposes them to suicide.
7. Contrary to popular legend, the brassiere was not invented by a man named Otto Titzling. Although women have worn chest-binding garments for exercise at least since the time of the ancient Greeks, the modern bra was invented by a French woman named Herminie Cadolle in 1889. The word brassiere—denoting an upper-body harness with straps—has been in use since at least the seventeenth century. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the term referred to a garment that supports the breasts.
8. At Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University, students can major and get a degree in bra studies.
9. Sleeping on one’s chest can change the shape of breasts over time, stretching the skin and leading to sagging. Experts recommend that women sleep on their side with their breasts supported by a pillow.
10. Wearing a bra to sleep does not lead to breast cancer.
11. Breasts contain no muscle tissue, so there’s no exercise that can change their shape. The only way to make breasts look firmer or perkier is to exercise the pectoral muscles underneath the breast tissue.
12. Men can lactate, too. It’s exceptionally rare, but since men possess mammary glands just like women do, they have the capacity to produce milk. When male lactation happens, it’s usually because of hormonal treatments for diseases like cancer.
13. According to the American Surgeon, up to 6 percent of the population has extra breast tissue, a condition called polymastia. The excess tissue usually exists in the armpit, although in rare cases, extra breasts may also appear on the neck, face, back, buttocks, vulva, thigh, or even foot and may be fully functional for nursing. The development of extra nipples without breasts is a condition called polythelia.
14. “Breast ironing” is a practice in Cameroon in which young girls’ developing breasts are beaten and flattened with heavy objects to prevent their emergence. Usually performed by mothers and older female relatives, the procedure is intended to ward off men’s unwanted sexual advances, as well as to prevent early marriage.
15. According to lingerie manufacturers, the average American woman’s bra size has increased in the past ten years, from a 34B to a 36C.
A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is about one in eight, and the likelihood is higher for women who smoke, are obese or inactive, or have a family history of the disease. This October, do yours a favor and do a breast self-exam to make sure they stay healthy and beautiful for years to come.