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Nipple discharge

Definition

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

Alternative Names

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

Causes

Sometimes discharge from your nipples is okay 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 usually 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’s 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 doctor or nurse 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's disease.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Have your health care provider evaluate any nipple discharge.

References

Gray RJ, Pockaj BA, Karstaedt PJ. Navigating murky waters: a modern treatment algorithm for nipple discharge. Am J Surg. 2007;194:850-854.

Katz VL, Dotters D. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatmentof benign and malignant disease. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 15.

Leitch AM, Ashfag R. Discharges and secretions of the nipple. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM III, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Disorders. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 4.

Melmed S, Kleinberg D, Ho K. Pituitary physiology and diagnostic evaluation. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 8.


Review Date: 11/16/2014
Reviewed By: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, 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. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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