Nipple discharge

Last updated: August 26, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Nipple discharge in non-lactating women can be classified as either galactorrhea or non-milky nipple discharge. Galactorrhea is usually caused by hyperprolactinemia and is associated with endocrine disorders or medication. Most of the causes of non-milky nipple discharge are benign, with less than 15% of cases related to cancer. The diagnostic approach is based on patient history and the characteristics of the discharge. Spontaneous, unilateral, and/or bloody nipple discharge, especially in women older than 40 years, should raise suspicion of malignancy. Treatment depends on the underlying disorder.

Overviewtoggle arrow icon

Physiological nipple discharge

  • Definition: bilateral nipple discharge, typically milky
  • Etiology
    • Lactation
    • Galactorrhea: milk production in non-breastfeeding women or men ; [1]
    • Chronic nipple stimulation; (e.g., piercings; , tight clothing, etc.)

Pathological nipple discharge

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Patient history and clinical breast examination

Further diagnostics

Physiological nipple discharge
Pathological nipple discharge

Biopsy is mandatory if malignancy is suspected.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Galactorrhea. Updated: January 1, 2018. Accessed: March 7, 2018.
  2. Dirbas F, Scott-Conner C. Breast Surgical Techniques and Interdisciplinary Management. Springer Science & Business Media ; 2011

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 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer