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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.

Images

Female Breast
Intraductal papilloma
Mammary gland
Abnormal discharge from the nipple
Normal female breast anatomy

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.

Related Information

Intraductal papilloma
Endocrine glands
Breast cancer

References

Klimberg VS, Hunt KK. Diseases of the breast. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2022:chap 35.

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.

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Review Date: 10/16/2020  

Reviewed By: Todd Campbell, MD, FACS, Clinical Assistant Professor Department of Surgery, Volunteer Faculty, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, Stratford, NJ; Medical Director, Independence Blue Cross, Philadelphia, PA. 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.

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