Nipple discharge refers to any fluid that seeps out of the nipple of the breast. Nipple discharge in a woman who’s not pregnant or breast-feeding isn’t necessarily abnormal, but it should be evaluated by a doctor.
Nipple discharge is a normal part of breast function during pregnancy or breast-feeding. It also may be associated with menstrual hormone changes. The milky discharge after breast-feeding can normally continue for up to two years after stopping nursing. Sometimes during pregnancy, the color of the nipple discharge may be bloody. The discharge should resolve on its own.
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.
Normal Nipple Discharge
Some causes of normal nipple discharge include:
Pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, some women notice clear breast discharge coming from their nipples. At later stages of pregnancy, this discharge may take on a watery, milky appearance.
Stopping breastfeeding. Even after you have stopped breastfeeding your baby, you may notice that a milk-like breast discharge persists for a while.
Stimulation. Nipples may secrete fluid when they are stimulated or squeezed, for example while making love. Normal nipple discharge may also occur when your nipples are repeatedly chafed by your bra or during vigorous physical exercise, such as jogging.
Most often, nipple discharge stems from a benign condition. However, breast cancer is a possibility, especially if:
1. You have a lump in your breast
2. Only one breast is affected
3. The discharge contains blood
4. The discharge is spontaneous
5. The discharge affects only a single duct
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.