What is bleeding nipple?
A bleeding nipple is bloody discharge from the nipple of the breast. Blood coming from the nipple can be symptomatic of a benign (noncancerous) breast disorder. These disorders include breast tissue infection, called mastitis, and intraductal papilloma. The latter is a small growth in the breast tubes that move milk to the nipple. These tubes are called ducts.
Bloody nipple discharge can also be an early sign of breast cancer. These cancers include intraductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma. Intraductal carcinoma, also called intraductal carcinoma in situ, begins in the ducts. Lobular carcinoma starts in the lobules, or the parts of the breast that produce milk. A rare type of breast cancer, Paget’s disease of the breast, begins with inflammation and skin changes on the nipple that may result in bleeding.
Women who are breastfeeding may experience cracked nipples that can produce blood. Women who have undergone nipple piercing may also experience bleeding as the piercing heals. Any type of trauma to the skin of the breast can produce bleeding of the nipple area.
A bleeding nipple should be evaluated by your health care provider immediately. S eek prompt medical care if you notice bloody discharge from your nipple.
What other symptoms might occur with bleeding nipple?
Bleeding nipple may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain symptoms that occur along with bleeding nipple may be early signs of breast cancer.
Breast symptoms that may occur along with bleeding nipple
Bleeding nipple may accompany other symptoms affecting the breast. These are related to benign or malignant (cancerous) processes and include:
- Breast discomfort or pain
- Breast lump
- Breast swelling, redness or warmth
- Change in the size, shape or appearance of the breast
- Nipple retraction or turning inward
- Other nipple discharge such as pus
Other symptoms that may occur along with bleeding nipple
Bleeding nipple may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Bone pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit
- Skin rash or ulcerations
- Sudden weight loss
- Swelling of the arm next to the affected nipple or breast
Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition
In some cases, bleeding nipple may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have bleeding nipple along with other serious symptoms including:
What causes bleeding nipple?
Blood coming from the nipple can be symptomatic of benign (noncancerous) breast disorders such as breast tissue infection or a growth in the milk ducts. Bloody nipple discharge also can be a sign of breast cancer. Women who are breastfeeding may experience cracked nipples that can produce blood. Women who have undergone nipple piercing or any trauma to the skin of the breast may also experience bleeding as the piercing or injury heals.
Benign causes of bleeding nipple
Bleeding nipple may be caused by benign breast disorders including:
- Breast tissue infection (mastitis)
- Cracked or broken skin on the nipple
- Intraductal papilloma (benign growth in the milk ducts)
External causes of bleeding nipple
Bleeding nipple can also be caused by:
- Cracked or broken nipple from breastfeeding
- Nipple piercing
Serious causes of bleeding nipple
In some cases, bleeding nipple may be a symptom of a serious condition that requires prompt medical attention including:
- Ductal or lobular breast cancer, including intraductal carcinoma in situ
- Paget’s disease of the breast
Questions for diagnosing the cause of bleeding nipple
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your bleeding nipple including:
- When did you first notice the bleeding nipple?
- Are your nipples cracked or dry?
- Are you experiencing any breast pain or discomfort?
- Have you felt a lump on the affected breast or under the armpit?
- Have you experienced other nipple discharge such as pus?
- Are you experiencing bone pain?
- Have you noticed any sudden changes in your weight?
What are the potential complications of bleeding nipple?
A potential complication of bleeding nipple is breast cancer. Because bleeding nipple can be an early sign of breast cancer, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Breast cancer
- Breast deformity
- Skin ulcerations and infections