Thursday, April 02, 2009

Nipple Discharge? But I'm Not Breastfeeding!

Hi Dr. Kate,

Recently I discovered that my nipples have been leaking some sort of substance. At first it didn't occur to me that it came from my breasts, but I've noticed the evidence in my bra cups. It isn't a lot, but it's enough to make me slightly nervous. Is this normal?

By the way, I'm 20 years old.


Dear FAL,

Nipple discharge can be scary, but isn't always a sign of something dangerous. There are a couple of things that gynos look at to try to tell why the girls are leaking:
  • Is it from one side or both? Leakage from both breasts is often a sign of a hormonal imbalance, while leakage from just one side may be a cyst or papilloma (think of a skin tag in a milk duct) in that breast.
  • When does it happen? If it's only when you press on the breast or with stimulation (called "expressing"), it's likely minor trauma to the ducts, and should go away with "breast rest" for a few weeks. If it's spontaneous--happening when you don't expect it, and sometimes staining your bra--it's more likely to be hormonal.
  • What color is the discharge? If it's white or clear, it's probably a hormonal problem. If it's green, don't panic--that means old blood, and a possible papilloma. If it's freshly bloody, it may also be a papilloma, but may be something more serious.
Your gyno will likely check you for thyroid and pituitary problems with blood tests and possibly an ultrasound, depending on the characteristics of your discharge. What does worrisome discharge look like? Spontaneous, bloody, and one-sided...anything else is likely to be benign. My best guess is that if your discharge is two-sided, it may be a sign of thyroid or pituitary problems, both of which can be treated. I DOUBT you have cancer.

Have you noticed anything strange coming from your breast?

Photo credit: scottwills

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