July 15, 2009

Nipple Discharge

Nipple discharge refers to any fluid that seeps out of the nipple in a nonlactating woman. Nonmilk discharge comes out of your breasts through the same nipple openings that carry milk.

One or both breasts may produce a nipple discharge, either spontaneously or when you squeeze your nipples or breasts. A nipple discharge may look milky, or it may be yellow, green, brown or bloody. The consistency of nipple discharge varies from thick and sticky to thin and watery.

Nipple discharge is a symptom that largely affects women. However, nipple discharge in a man under any circumstances is problematic and should be investigated.


Sometimes, nipple discharge is just a normal (physiological) part of your breast's function. If that's the case, the discharge might resolve on its own.

Most often, nipple discharge stems from a noncancerous (benign) condition. However, breast cancer is a possibility, especially if:

You are over age 40
You have a lump in your breast
The discharge contains blood
Only one breast is affected
Possible causes of nipple discharge include:

Breast cancer
Breast infection
Excessive breast stimulation
Fibrocystic breasts
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
Hormone imbalance
Injury or trauma to the breast
Intraductal papilloma
Mammary duct ectasia
Medication use
Paget's disease of the breast

When to see a doctor

Rarely is nipple discharge a sign of breast cancer. But it might be a sign of an underlying condition that requires treatment. If you're still having periods and your nipple discharge doesn't resolve on its own after your next menstrual cycle, or if it's particularly bothersome, make an appointment with your doctor to have it evaluated. If you're postmenopausal and experience nipple discharge at any time, see your doctor right away.

In the meantime, take care to avoid nipple stimulation — including frequent checks for discharge — because stimulation actually makes the discharge persist.


Non-cancerous breast conditions. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_6X_Non_Cancerous_Breast_Conditions_59.asp?sitearea. Accessed Jan. 5, 2009.
Golshan M, et al. Nipple discharge. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Jan. 6, 2009.
Breast disorders. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: The Merck Manual Home Edition. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec22/ch251/ch251a.html. Accessed Jan. 6, 2009.

Adapted from: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

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