When it comes to pregnant women and new mothers, nipple discharge may be a physiological sign, but in other women it may be a sign of alarm, since leaks may indicate the presence of serious diseases.
From a medical perspective, nipple leaks are classified in lactic and non-lactic discharge. Lactic leakage is clear and resembles to milk, and non-lactic discharge can be thicker and yellow, green, brown, pink or light red.
Generally, breast leaks are pathological (caused by a specific injury or illness) and if they occur as a single symptom, on a single galactofore duct, happen repeatedly and / or they have a bloody appearance.
The Lactic Discharge
Lactic secretion in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, or the lactic secretions in men are known as galactorrhoea. Usually, this secretion occurs in both breasts and the liquid is watery and white, but could also be yellow or green.
While in adults this is one of the signs of disease, at puberty both boys and girls may have a breast leak of benign nature. Interestingly, 5% of infants have breast leaks.
Causes resulting in galactorrhoea are squeezing and mechanical stimulation (rubbing) of the nipples (benign cases) or administration of drugs or illicit substances, such as antidepressants, anti-hypertensives, steroids, anti-psychotics or marijuana.
In addition, breast leakage may occur after excessive consumption of fruit and vegetables that contain phytoestrogens (nettle, fennel, anise, etc.). The estrogen in these plants leads to the onset of lactation.
The Non-Lactic Discharge
The breast discharge that is green to black, viscous and sticky duct may signal galactofore inflammation, an unpleasant benign condition called duct ectasia . The leakage can occur in one or more channels that reach the nipple.
If the fluid is smelly then the non-lactic discharge can signal breast infection – a condition known as mastitis. If the fluid is reddish and occurs in one nipple only, then it is a classic sign of a non-cancerous prominence called intraductal papilloma.
Also, the reddish fluid can be an indication that the patient suffers from Paget’s disease of the breast. This disease manifests as a lesion of the nipple (nipple alone), with small ulcers covered by crusts, which will easily reappear after being removed and will bleed. The nipple may withdraw and clog. A nodular tumor can be constantly felt into the depth of the nipple. This type of cancer represents between 3-5% of breast cancers and it usually occurs in women who have reached menopause- the maximum incidence is around age 54. It is a form of cancer that can be easily detected because of its clinical characteristic features, as long as women are trained what to look for. The lesion’s biopsy is mandatory, with pathological examination for a final diagnosis .
Ultimately, whether it is bloody or not, the breast discharge from more galactofore channels can be signs of fibrocystic changes or other benign breast conditions.
Although they are almost undetectable, some women feel the presence of small prominences behind or near the nipple. These prominences may occur in one or both breasts. Interestingly, young women have many prominences, while older women usually show only one.