The likelihood of nipple discharge increases with age. It is somewhat common in women who have had at least one pregnancy or are in the final weeks of pregnancy.
A milky nipple discharge is rare in men or women, but it does occur. When it occurs in men or in women who have never been pregnant, it is likely to be caused by an underlying disease. However, even then nipple discharge has many other causes that are NOT breast cancer, including:
Most women with inverted nipples who give birth are able to breastfeed without complications.
In most cases nipple problems do not involve breast cancer. These problems will either go away with the right treatment, or they can be watched closely over time.
Nipple discharge may be a symptom of breast cancer or a pituitary tumor.
Skin changes around the nipple may be caused by Paget's disease.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Your nipple becomes retracted or pulled in when it was not that way before
Your nipple has changed in shape
Your nipple becomes tender and it is not related to your menstrual cycle
Your nipple has skin changes
You have new nipple discharge
Valea FA, Katz VL. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disease. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 15.
Leitch AM, Ashfag R. Discharges and secretions of the nipple. In: Bland KI, Copeland EM III, eds. The Breast: Comprehensive Management of Benign and Malignant Disorders. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 4.
Gray RJ, Pockaj BA, Karstaedt PJ. Navigating murky waters: a modern treatment algorithm for nipple discharge. Am J Surg. 2007;194:850-854.
Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, WA; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.