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Cooper's ligament

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Subject: Inflammatory breast cancer, Mastopexy
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Cooper's ligament

This article is about Cooper's ligaments of the breast. For the inguinal structure also called Cooper's Ligament, see Pectineal ligament.
Cooper's ligaments
Latin Retinaculum cutis mammae,
ligamenta suspensoria mammaria

Cooper's ligaments (also known as the suspensory ligaments of Cooper and the fibrocollagenous septa) are connective tissue in the breast that help maintain structural integrity. They are named for Astley Cooper, who first described them in 1840.[1][2] Their anatomy can be revealed using Transmission diffraction tomography.[3]

Cooper's Suspensory Ligament should not be confused with the pectineal ligament (sometimes called the inguinal ligament of Cooper) which shares the same eponym.


The ligaments run from the clavicle and the clavipectoral fascia branching out through and around breast tissue to the dermis of the skin overlying the breast. The intact ligament suspends the breast from the clavicle and the underlying deep fascia of the upper chest. This has the effect of supporting the breast in its normal position, and maintaining its normal shape. Without the internal support of this ligament, the breast tissue (which is heavier than the surrounding fat) sags under its own weight, losing its normal shape and contour.


The suspensory ligaments of Cooper play an important role in the change in appearance of the breast that often accompanies the development of inflammatory carcinoma of the breast in which blockage of the local lymphatic ducts causes swelling of the breast. Because the skin remains tethered by the suspensory ligaments of Cooper, it takes on a dimpled appearance reminiscent of the peel of an orange (peau d'orange). Carcinomas can also decrease the length of Cooper's ligaments leading to a dimpling.

Relationship to sagging

Main article: ptosis (breasts)

Many women have held the mistaken belief that sagging is caused by the failure of the Cooper's ligaments to support the breast tissue. In fact, sagging is partly determined by genetic factors, but cigarette smoking, a woman's body mass index, her number of pregnancies, the size of her breasts before pregnancy, and age are all influencing factors.[4]

Many women also believe that wearing a brassiere will prevent their breasts from sagging later in life and that breasts cannot anatomically support themselves.[5] Bra manufacturers will only claim that bras only affect the shape of breasts while they are being worn.[6] A bra only provides support to women's breasts while they are wearing the bra.[5]

Dr. Christine Haycock, a respected surgeon at the New Jersey Medical School and an expert in sports medicine,[7] said that "Cooper's ligaments have nothing to do with supporting breast tissue... They just serve to divide the breast into compartments." She noted that most women's breasts begin to droop with age and that extremely large-breasted women are generally more affected. However, sagging is not related to ligaments or dependent on breast size.

Pare away the fiction and fears, and the pros and cons of the bra come down to this: If a woman chooses to wear one because it makes her feel good -- more supported, more under control or just prettier -- more power to her... Haycock suggests that women let pain be their guide when deciding whether to wear a bra during exercise, and when choosing a particular style.[8]

Pathologically heavy breasts may cause pain in the woman's upper thoracic area, but this may be due to a poorly-fitting bra. A number of reports state the 80–85% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.[9][10][11][12][13] While large-breasted women may be uncomfortable exercising without a bra, Dr. Haycock said that “It’s not doing any lasting damage to chest muscles or breast tissue.” Her research found that small-breasted women, “those who wore an A cup were frequently most comfortable with no bra at all."[8]

In middle-aged women, breast ptosis is caused by a combination of factors. If the woman has had children, postpartum hormonal changes will cause the depleted milk glands to atrophy. Women who experience multiple pregnancies repeatedly stretch the skin envelope during engorgement while lactating. In addition, after the birth of each child, the voluminous milk glands diminish in size, contributing further to sagging. As a woman's breasts grow in size during repeated pregnancies, the Cooper's ligaments that maintain the position of the mammary glands against the chest, are stretched and gradually lose strength. Breast tissue and suspensory ligaments may also be stretched if the woman is overweight or loses and gains weight.

Popular culture

  • In the novel The House of God, author Samuel Shem referred to them as "Cooper's Droopers", referring to their progressive loss of tension.
  • In Robert L. Forward's novel Dragon's Egg, a character supposes herself to have been subjected to a transient episode of "Reverse Cooper's Droop" when unbeknownst to her small aliens destroy a patch of cancerous tissue in her breast using precisely-focused X-rays.[14]


External links

  • eMedicine Dictionary
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