The function of breasts is to produce milk. Sometimes a woman makes milk even when she is not breast-feeding. This is called galactorrhea. Women are more prone to nipple discharge at puberty and just prior to menopause. A woman with inverted nipples may have a discharge caused by dried sweat and/or debris becoming trapped in the nipple. Just by squeezing the nipple, the hormone prolactin is activated and can initiate or increase a discharge. Breast discharge in men is uncommon and should be checked by a doctor. If a mass is found, the patient should have a mammogram and/or a biopsy.
Nipple discharge is a concern when
Causes of nipple discharge
The fluid discharge is often examined under a microscope to detect abnormal cells. This can be collected by your doctor or surgeon in the office. A mammogram is typically performed to screen for any signs of cancer. Ultrasound is sometimes used to evaluate the ductal system around the nipple. The radiologist can examine the duct system with an x-ray called a ductogram. This x-ray can identify the most common causes of nipple discharge.
Treatment for persistent nipple discharge
The most common treatment for persistent discharge without hormone involvement is duct excision. This is performed under local anesthesia by a surgeon on an outpatient basis. A small incision is made around the areola (colored area of the breast), and the duct is removed.
Note: Any discharge associated with a breast lump, skin changes, nipple changes or abnormal mammogram should be referred to a surgeon.