Healthcare Library

Spanish Version
Print-Friendly
Bookmarks
bookmarks-menu

Nipple discharge

Discharge from breasts; Milk secretions; Lactation - abnormal; Witch's milk (neonatal milk); Galactorrhea; Inverted nipple; Nipple problems; Breast cancer - discharge

Nipple discharge is any fluid that comes out of the nipple area in your breast.

Causes

Sometimes discharge from your nipples is OK and will get better on its own. You are more likely to have nipple discharge if you have been pregnant at least once.

Nipple discharge is most often not cancer (benign), but rarely, it can be a sign of breast cancer. It is important to find out what is causing it and to get treatment. Here are some reasons for nipple discharge:

  • Pregnancy
  • Recent breastfeeding
  • Rubbing on the area from a bra or t-shirt
  • Injury to the breast
  • Breast infection
  • Inflammation and clogging of the breast ducts
  • Noncancerous pituitary tumors
  • Small growth in the breast that is usually not cancer
  • Severe underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
  • Fibrocystic breast (normal lumpiness in the breast)
  • Use of certain medicines such as birth control pills or antidepressants
  • Use of certain herbs, such as anise and fennel
  • Widening of the milk ducts
  • Intraductal papilloma (benign tumor in the milk duct)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Illicit drug use, including cocaine, opioids and marijuana

Sometimes, babies can have nipple discharge. This is caused by hormones from the mother before birth. It should go away in 2 weeks.

Cancers such as Paget disease (a rare type of cancer involving the skin of the nipple) can also cause nipple discharge.

Symptoms

Nipple discharge that is NOT normal is:

  • Bloody
  • Comes from only one nipple
  • Comes out on its own without you squeezing or touching your nipple

Nipple discharge is more likely to be normal if it:

  • Comes out of both nipples
  • Happens when you squeeze your nipples

The color of the discharge does not tell you whether it is normal. The discharge can look milky, clear, yellow, green, or brown.

Squeezing your nipple to check for discharge can make it worse. Leaving the nipple alone may make the discharge stop.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.

Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Once the cause of your nipple discharge is found, your provider can recommend ways to treat it. You may:

  • Need to change any medicine that caused the discharge
  • Have lumps removed
  • Have all or some of the breast ducts removed
  • Receive creams to treat skin changes around your nipple
  • Receive medicines to treat a health condition

If all of your tests are normal, you may not need treatment. You should have another mammogram and physical exam within 1 year.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, nipple problems are not breast cancer. These problems will either go away with the right treatment, or they can be watched closely over time.

Possible Complications

Nipple discharge may be a symptom of breast cancer or a pituitary tumor.

Skin changes around the nipple may be caused by Paget disease.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Have your provider evaluate any nipple discharge.

References

Hunt KK, Mittendorf EA. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 34.

Kaiser U, Ho KKY. Pituitary physiology and diagnostic evaluation. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 8.

Leitch AM, Ashfaq R. Discharges and secretions of the nipple. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM, Klimberg VS, Gradishar WJ, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Disorders. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 4.

Sandadi S, Rock DT, Orr JW, Valela FA. Breast diseases: detection, management, and surveillance of breast disease. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Lentz GM, Valea FA, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 15.

    • Female Breast

      Female Breast - illustration

      The female breast is either of two mammary glands (organs of milk secretion) on the chest.

      Female Breast

      illustration

    • Intraductal papilloma

      Intraductal papilloma - illustration

      Intraductal papilloma is a benign tumor inside a milk duct. Removal of the duct for biopsy may be recommended to rule out cancer.

      Intraductal papilloma

      illustration

    • Mammary gland

      Mammary gland - illustration

      The anatomy of the breast includes the lactiferous, or milk ducts, and the mammary lobules.

      Mammary gland

      illustration

    • Abnormal discharge from the nipple

      Abnormal discharge from the nipple - illustration

      Abnormal nipple discharge may be described as any discharge not associated with lactation. The nature of the discharge may range in color, consistency and composition, and occur in one or both breasts.

      Abnormal discharge from the nipple

      illustration

    • Normal female breast anatomy

      Normal female breast anatomy - illustration

      The female breast is composed mainly of fatty tissue interspersed with fibrous or connective tissue. The circular region around the nipple is often a different color or pigmented. This region is called the areola.

      Normal female breast anatomy

      illustration

      • Female Breast

        Female Breast - illustration

        The female breast is either of two mammary glands (organs of milk secretion) on the chest.

        Female Breast

        illustration

      • Intraductal papilloma

        Intraductal papilloma - illustration

        Intraductal papilloma is a benign tumor inside a milk duct. Removal of the duct for biopsy may be recommended to rule out cancer.

        Intraductal papilloma

        illustration

      • Mammary gland

        Mammary gland - illustration

        The anatomy of the breast includes the lactiferous, or milk ducts, and the mammary lobules.

        Mammary gland

        illustration

      • Abnormal discharge from the nipple

        Abnormal discharge from the nipple - illustration

        Abnormal nipple discharge may be described as any discharge not associated with lactation. The nature of the discharge may range in color, consistency and composition, and occur in one or both breasts.

        Abnormal discharge from the nipple

        illustration

      • Normal female breast anatomy

        Normal female breast anatomy - illustration

        The female breast is composed mainly of fatty tissue interspersed with fibrous or connective tissue. The circular region around the nipple is often a different color or pigmented. This region is called the areola.

        Normal female breast anatomy

        illustration

      Self Care

       

      Review Date: 10/30/2018

      Reviewed By: Jonas DeMuro, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Stony Brook School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
      adam.com

       
       
       

       

       

      A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.
      Content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.

      ways to give

      view all

      news room

      view all

      healthcare library

      view all
      Event Calendar

      Hunterdon Healthcare offers an array of educational events, including childbirth, healthy living and fitness classes.

      LEARN MORE
      Health and Wellness Centers

      Where health and fitness meet to help you stay healthy at every age.

      LEARN MORE
      Heart & Vascular

      Heart and Vascular Services Department brings world-class cardiovascular care to our community.

      LEARN MORE