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.

A papilloma is a noncancerous (benign) tumor that can be associated with bloody discharge. It appears spontaneously and involves a single duct. Although the bloody discharge may resolve on its own, this situation requires evaluation with an ultrasound of the area behind the nipple and areola. If the ultrasound shows a lesion, you may need a biopsy to confirm that it's a papilloma.

Most often, nipple discharge stems from a benign condition. However, breast cancer is a possibility, especially if:

  • You have a lump in your breast
  • Only one breast is affected
  • The discharge contains blood
  • The discharge is spontaneous
  • The discharge affects only a single duct

Possible causes of nipple discharge include:

  1. Abscess
  2. Breast cancer
  3. Breast infection
  4. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
  5. Excessive breast stimulation
  6. Fibroadenoma — a solid, benign mass most common in young women
  7. Fibrocystic breasts — lumpy or rope-like breast tissue
  8. Galactorrhea
  9. Hormone imbalance
  10. Injury or trauma to the breast
  11. Intraductal papilloma
  12. Mammary duct ectasia
  13. Medication use
  14. Menstrual cycle hormone changes
  15. Paget's disease of the breast
  16. Pregnancy and breast-feeding
  17. Prolactinoma

Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

April 09, 2014