In most cases, nipple discharge is either normal or due to a minor condition.
It's terrifying when anything out of the ordinary happens with your body. If you're like me, it doesn't take much to jump to the worst case scenarios, where a migraine becomes a brain tumor or a muscle pain morphs into a blood clot.
But some things are scarier than others, especially if one of those things doubles as a symptom of cancer.
Nipple discharge is one of those very scary symptoms as it can indicate breast cancers such as intraductal carcinoma (cancer that develops within the ducts of the breast underneath the nipple), or Paget's disease (this condition starts in the ducts of the breast and then moves to the nipple). Paget's disease can cause the nipple and the surrounding areola to bleed or ooze.
Bloody nipple discharge is never normal. If you're not breastfeeding and some kind of spontaneous discharge comes out of your nipple, it can be very alarming.
But before you start to panic, look for things that will differentiate the discharge between normal or abnormal. Unfortunately, the color of the discharge isn't helpful.
Here are five possible causes of abnormal discharge.
1. Fibrocystic breast changes
Fibrocystic refers to the presence or development of fibrous tissue and cysts. These changes in your breasts can cause lumps or thickenings in your breast tissue and can be itchy, painful, and can cause secretions of clear, white, yellow, or green nipple discharge. These fibrocystic breast changes don't indicate the presence of cancer.
While it may sound like a condition one gets in outer space, it's actually a condition (not a disease) in which a woman's breast secretes milk or a milky nipple discharge even though she's not breastfeeding. Some causes of galactorrhea include pituitary gland tumors, some medications (including some hormones and psychotropic drugs), some herbs such as anise and fennel, Hypothyroidism, and drugs like marijuana.
3. Mastitis/Nipple infection
Mastitis is normally seen in breastfeeding mothers but it can develop in women who aren't lactating. From what I understand from a friend who had it, it's pretty painful. If you have an infection or an abscess in your breast, you may also observe that your breast is sore, red, and/or warm to the touch.
4. Mammary duct ectasia
Mammary duct ectasia is generally seen in women who are approaching menopause. This is when the ducts underneath the nipple are clogged and possibly inflamed. When this happens, an infection may develop that results in a thick, greenish nipple discharge.
5. Intraductal papilloma
Intraductal papilloma are noncancerous growths in the ducts of the breast, and they're the most common reason women experience abnormal nipple discharge. When they become inflamed, intraductal papillomas may result in a nipple discharge that contains blood or is sticky in texture.
If you're having nipple discharge, you should definitely make an appointment to see your doctor. They'll determine if you have normal or abnormal discharge.
If they believe your discharge may be abnormal, they'll order some tests, such as a lab analysis of the discharge, blood tests, mammogram and/or ultrasound of one or both breasts, a brain scan, a surgical biopsy of the breast, and the excision and analysis of one or more ducts in your nipple.
There are many reasons that one might have nipple discharge, so stay calm, get more information, and continue to be vigilant in the care of your body and your breasts.