Nipple discharge is when fluid leaks from one or both nipples. It is normal after a woman gives birth because her breasts are making milk for the baby. Nipple discharge may be a concern when it:
- happens in a woman who is not breastfeeding
- occurs on its own, or spontaneously, without squeezing the nipple
- comes out of more than one duct in the breast
- has blood in it
Nipple discharge is usually due to a benign condition. Discharge from one nipple is more likely to be caused by a problem in that breast. Discharge from both nipples is more likely to be caused by something outside of the breast, such as an endocrine gland problem. Have your doctor check any nipple discharge.
The discharge can look different depending on what causes it.
- Clear or bloody discharge, often from one nipple, may be caused by a non-cancerous tumour called intraductal papilloma.
- Thick or sticky discharge that is green, greenish brown or reddish brown may be caused by a non-cancerous condition called mammary duct ectasia.
- Yellow and foul-smelling pus may be caused by a breast infection.
- Milky white discharge from both breasts may be caused by some medicines or endocrine gland problems.
If you have nipple discharge, your doctor may ask about any medications that you are taking. The following tests may be used for diagnosis.
- clinical breast exam (CBE)
- blood tests to check hormone levels
- looking at a sample of the discharge in the laboratory
Treatment for nipple discharge will depend on what is causing it. Treatment options may include:
- medications to treat hormone or endocrine gland problems
- antibiotics for breast infections, and draining any pus collecting in the breast (abscess)
- surgery to remove a duct
Benign tumours do not invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
A type of gland without a duct that releases hormones directly into the blood.
Examples of endocrine glands include the thyroid, parathyroid gland, pituitary gland, pancreatic islet cells, adrenal gland, pineal gland and the ovaries and testicles.
Also called ductless gland.
A substance that regulates specific body functions, such as metabolism, growth and reproduction.
Natural hormones are produced by glands. Artificial or synthetic hormones can be made in the lab.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
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