Nipple discharge is common and usually not serious, but may be a sign of an underlying condition. It’s always a good idea to discuss any new discharge with a healthcare professional.

Nipple discharge is any fluid or other liquid that comes out of your nipple. You might have to squeeze the nipple to get the fluid to come out, or it could seep out on its own.

Nipple discharge is common during reproductive years, even if you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding. Discharge is usually not serious. Still, it can be a sign of breast cancer, so it’s worth talking about with a doctor.

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of nipple discharge and when you should talk with your doctor.

Did you know?

Your breasts each contain about 20 milk ducts, and fluid can leak from them. It’s normal for some milk to leak out of your nipple when you’re pregnant or lactating.

Nipple discharge comes in many colors. The color may give you some clues about the cause. The chart below lists the discharge colors and some possible causes if you’re not lactating.

ColorPossible cause
white, cloudy, yellow, or filled with pusan infection of the breast or nipple
brown or cheese-likemammary duct ectasia (blocked milk duct)
clearbreast cancer, especially if only coming from one breast
breast cancer

The causes listed are only suggestions. You should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis if you notice nipple discharge of any color.

Discharge can also come in a few textures. For example, it may be thick, thin, or sticky.

The discharge might come out of just one nipple or both nipples. And it can leak out on its own or only when you squeeze the nipple.

Some other symptoms you might have with nipple discharge include:

  • breast pain or tenderness
  • lump or swelling in the breast or around the nipple
  • nipple changes, like turning inward, dimpling, changing color, itching, or scaling
  • skin changes, such as rash or lesions
  • redness
  • breast size changes, such as one breast that’s larger or smaller than the other
  • fever
  • missed periods
  • nausea or vomiting
  • fatigue

When you’re pregnant or lactating, small amounts of milk might leak out. The leakage can start early in pregnancy, and you could continue to see milk for up to 2 or 3 years after ending nursing.

However, you may have discharge even if you’re not pregnant or lactating. Other causes of nipple discharge include:

  • birth control pills
  • breast infection or abscess
  • duct papilloma, a harmless wart-like growth in your milk duct
  • drugs that increase levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin, such as antidepressants and tranquilizers
  • excess stimulation of the breast or nipple
  • fibrocystic breasts
  • hormone changes during your period or menopause
  • injury to the breast
  • mammary duct ectasia, known as a blocked milk duct
  • prolactinoma, a noncancerous tumor of the pituitary gland
  • underactive thyroid gland
  • breast cancer

Breast cancer can cause nipple discharge, especially ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts. It can also happen with Paget’s disease of the breast, a rare type of breast cancer that involves the nipple.

If you do have breast cancer, the discharge will probably only come from one breast. You may have a lump in your breast, too.

Discharge is rarely due to cancer, however. In an older study, only 9 percent of women 50 years or older who saw a doctor for nipple discharge had breast cancer.

It’s still a good idea to get any breast discharge checked out, especially if it’s a new symptom for you.

Nipple discharge is usually nothing to worry about. Still, because it can be a sign of breast cancer, it’s worth having a doctor check it out. It’s especially important to see a doctor if:

  • you have a lump in your breast
  • you have nipple or skin changes, such as crusting or color change
  • you have pain in your breast or other symptoms of breast cancer
  • the discharge is bloody
  • only one breast is affected
  • the discharge doesn’t stop

In men, it’s important to see a doctor if you notice any nipple discharge as it’s uncommon.

Your doctor will start by asking questions about the discharge, including:

  • When did the discharge start?
  • Is it in one breast or both?
  • Does it come out on its own, or do you have to squeeze the nipple to produce it?
  • What other symptoms do you have?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?

The doctor will do a clinical exam to check your breasts for lumps or other signs of cancer. You may also have one or more of these tests:

  • Biopsy. The doctor removes a small sample of tissue from your breast to check it for cancer.
  • Mammogram. This test takes X-ray pictures of your breasts to help the doctor look for cancer.
  • Ductogram. This test uses mammography and an injected contrast material to display an image of the milk ducts inside your breasts.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your breasts.

Your doctor will also likely do a urine or blood test to find out if you’re pregnant.

Once you know what’s causing the nipple discharge, you can treat it if necessary. Discharge that’s due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, or hormonal changes may not need to be treated. Your doctor may treat discharge from other causes based on the condition.

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