Nipple discharge

Definition

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:

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:

Nipple discharge is more likely to be normal if it:

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:

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.


Review Date: 10/4/2016
Reviewed By: John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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