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Nipple Discharge

What is nipple discharge?

Nipple discharge may be common for premenopausal women—especially milky discharge. This is usually due to normal hormonal changes within a woman’s body. It often occurs in both breasts.

There are some specific types of nipple discharge that warrant closer evaluation:

  • Bloody nipple discharge – If the discharge is bloody, a papilloma is suspected. This wart-like group inside the duct irritates the tissue, producing the reddish discharge. This can also be a symptom of breast cancer, so proper evaluation is recommended.
  • Greenish nipple discharge – If the discharge is army green in color, it can be a sign that there is a breast cyst underneath the nipple and areola area that is spontaneously draining. This can be further evaluated with breast imaging studies, such as ultrasound.
  • Clear nipple discharge – Clear discharge can be a sign of abnormal cells (including cancer cells) within the breast. The risk of cancer is lower when there is discharge from both breasts.

How do I know when to see a breast specialist?

It is always important to have nipple discharge evaluated, as it may signal other worrisome health problems. If you have discharge coming from one or both of your breasts, and if the discharge is new and has not been thoroughly investigated, we strongly recommend that you make an appointment with a breast specialist.

How will I be evaluated for nipple discharge?

Your physician will give you a clinical breast exam, ask about your personal medical history, and probably order a mammogram and/or ultrasound to rule out any possible masses. Ultrasound is very useful at evaluating causes of nipple discharge. Your physician may also order a ductogram, which is a dilation of the duct to search for the source of the discharge. In some cases, a biopsy will be performed.