Nipple discharge: A sign of breast cancer?

Toby Richards, A. Hunt, S. Courtney, H. Umeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Nipple discharge is regarded a sign of breast cancer. Type of discharge and cytology are unreliable for diagnosis. Most malignant cases have a detectable breast mass. The aim of this study was to assess the association between nipple discharge and breast cancer. Patients who underwent operation for nipple discharge at a district general hospital (population 460,000) over a 3-year period were included. All had normal clinical, radiological and cytological examination. Operation and histopathology reports were reviewed. Eighty-six patients underwent operation for nipple discharge. Median age was 54 years (range, 32-84 years). Analysis of nipple discharge revealed red blood cells (RBCs) in 35 patients (40%). At operation, 81 patients underwent radical sub-areola duct excision (Hadfield's procedure) and five microdochectomy. Histopathology reported duct ectasia in 59 patients and benign ductal papilloma in 25. Two patients had occult malignancy - DCIS (1) and LCIS (1). No invasive cancer was found. Nipple discharge alone is not usually a sign of breast cancer. Occult malignancy is rare. A period of 'watchful waiting' may prevent patients undergoing unnecessary surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-126
Number of pages3
JournalAnnals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


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