Sometimes discharge from your nipples is okay and will get better on its own. You are more likely to have nipple discharge if you have been pregnant at least once.
Nipple discharge is usually not cancer (benign), but rarely it can be a sign of breast cancer. It is important to find out what is causing it and to get treatment. Here are some reasons for nipple discharge:
Rubbing on the area from a bra or t-shirt
Injury to the breast
Inflammation and clogging of the breast ducts
Noncancerous pituitary tumors
Small growth in the breast that is usually not cancer
Severe underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
Fibrocystic breast (normal lumpiness in the breast)
Use of certain medicines
Use of certain herbs, such as anise and fennel
Widening of the milk ducts
Sometimes, babies can have nipple discharge. This is caused by hormones from the mother before birth. It should go away in 2 weeks.
Cancers such as Paget’s disease (a rare type of cancer involving the skin of the nipple) can also cause nipple discharge.
Nipple discharge that is NOT normal is:
Comes from only 1 nipple
Comes out on its own without you squeezing or touching your nipple
Nipple discharge is more likely to be normal if it:
Comes out of both nipples
Happens when you squeeze your nipples
The color of the discharge does not tell you whether it is normal. The discharge can look milky, clear, yellow, green, or brown.
Squeezing your nipple to check for discharge can make it worse. Leaving the nipple alone may make the discharge stop.
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider will examine you and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.
Katz VL, Dotters D. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatmentof benign and malignant disease. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012: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: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 4.
Melmed S, Kleinberg D, Ho K. Pituitary physiology and diagnostic evaluation. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 8.
Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.