Breast cancer is a malignant disease that occurs when there is an uncontrollable growth of cells in the breast. The exact causes for the development of the disease are not fully understood, but it is known that the disease is always related to inherited or acquired DNA mutations. Also, there are numerous risk factors that impact the probability of suffering from breast cancer, a disease that remains the second most common type of cancer among American women.

The widespread use of screening mammograms resulted over the years in higher rates of early diagnosis and survival. However, there are still about 246,660 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the US every year as well as about 40,450 deaths related to the disease, according to the estimates from the American Cancer Society. The most common symptom of breast cancer is the presence of a new breast lump or mass, but there are other signs like a nipple discharge other than breast milk.

Nipple Discharge as Symptom of Breast Cancer

A nipple discharge is considered the leakage of any fluid from the nipple. It is normal for pregnant or breast-feeding women to discharge milk from the nipple, as part of the normal function of the breast. It may also be related to alterations in the menstrual hormones. An unexpected nipple discharge may be milky, clear, yellow, green, brown or bloody, as well as thick and sticky or thin and watery, depending on the causes. Despite the fact that nipple discharge in women who are pregnant or breast-feeding does not necessarily meant a disease, it is important to ask the opinion of a physician.

Numerous diseases may cause nipple discharge, including abscesses, breast infection, excessive breast stimulation, fibroadenoma, fibrocystic breasts, galactorrhea, hormone imbalance, injury or trauma to the breast, intraductal papilloma, mammary duct ectasia, determined medication, or prolactinoma, but also breast cancer. It is more likely that nipple discharge is a symptom of breast cancer if patients also have a breast lump or mass, if the discharge comes from only one nipple, if it contains blood, if the discharge is spontaneous, and if it affects a single duct. In the case of men, there is no normal reason for a nipple discharge, which is why men who experience it should seek immediate help.

Management of Nipple Discharge in Breast Cancer

After confirming the diagnosis that caused a nipple discharge, there are different treatment options to address ti. Physicians may start to request alterations in any medication, remove lumps or breast ducts, and provide creams to treat skin alterations around the nipple. Specific for breast cancer, there are two main courses of treatment. Local treatment refers to therapies focused on the tumor without harming the rest of the body and include surgery and radiation therapy, while systemic treatments, like chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, and bone-directed therapy, consist on the use of drugs able to kill cancer cells anywhere in the body.

“Advances in combination procedures of ductoscopy and lavage cytology may lead to increased diagnostic accuracy and possibly enable curative ablation of intraductal lesions,” revealed the authors of the study “Nipple Discharge: A Sign of Breast Cancer?” “Most commonly performed operations for nipple discharge are microdochectomy with isolation and removal of the affected duct or radical subareolar duct excision otherwise known as Hadfield’s procedure. These operations are both diagnostic and therapeutic.”

Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Inês holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, where she specialized in blood vessel biology, blood stem cells, and cancer. Before that, she studied Cell and Molecular Biology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and worked as a research fellow at Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. Inês currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.
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Inês holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, where she specialized in blood vessel biology, blood stem cells, and cancer. Before that, she studied Cell and Molecular Biology at Universidade Nova de Lisboa and worked as a research fellow at Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologias and Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência. Inês currently works as a Managing Science Editor, striving to deliver the latest scientific advances to patient communities in a clear and accurate manner.
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