Canadian Cancer Society logo

Breast cancer

You are here: 

Nipple discharge

Nipple discharge is the leakage of fluid from one or both nipples. Nipple discharge normally occurs after a woman gives birth to a baby because her breasts produce milk.

Discharge from one nipple is more likely to be caused by a problem with that particular breast. Discharge from both nipples is more likely the result of something outside of the breast, such as medications or an endocrineendocrineThe group of glands and cells in the body that make and release hormones (which control many functions such as growth, reproduction, sleep, hunger and metabolism) into the blood. gland problem.

Nipple discharge is usually due to a benign condition, but it should be checked by a doctor.

Several different conditions can cause abnormal nipple discharge. The appearance of the discharge can vary depending on the cause.

  • Discharge that contains pus and is foul-smelling may be caused by breast infection (mastitis).
    • Other symptoms of a breast infection include a fever, tenderness, pain, redness, warmth and swelling in the breast.
  • Clear or bloody discharge, often from only one breast, may be caused by an intraductal papilloma.
  • Greenish discharge may be caused by a fibroadenoma.
  • Discharge that is sticky, thick and varied in colour (green, greenish-brown or bloody) may be caused by mammary duct ectasia.
  • Milky discharge from both breasts (galactorrhea) may be caused by:
    • endocrine disorders, such as pituitary gland or thyroid disorders
    • certain drugs, such as antidepressants or drugs for high blood pressure

Breast cancer rarely causes nipple discharge. It may be more of a concern when nipple discharge:

  • occurs in a woman who is not breast-feeding
  • does not go away on its own
  • comes from more than one duct in a breast
  • is spontaneous and occurs without squeezing the nipple
  • is bloody

Diagnosis

If nipple discharge is present, or if the doctor is concerned about nipple discharge, tests will be done to make a diagnosis. Tests may include:

Treatment

Treatment of nipple discharge often depends on the condition causing it. Treatment options for nipple discharge may include:

  • medications
    • Certain medications may be used to treat hormone-related problems or endocrine gland disorders.
      • Bromocriptine is a drug that blocks the release of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary gland. Prolactin affects the menstrual cycle and milk production.
    • Antibiotics are the usual treatment for breast infections. If an abscess is present, it may need to be drained.
  • surgical removal of the duct(s)
  • treatment of pituitary gland or brain tumours

Stories

Dr Peter Dirks A driving force behind relapse in childhood brain cancer

Read more

A home away from home

Illustration of house

For cancer patients who must travel a great distance to get to treatment, Canadian Cancer Society lodges offer a welcoming place to stay.

Learn more