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Nipple Knowledge: What’s Normal and When Should I Be Concerned?

Thanks to advances in medical technology, doctors can determine if someone has breast cancer even in its earliest stages. This means women have a better chance of a full recovery. Certain symptoms are important to watch out for, including changes to the nipples. Find out when you should go see a doctor about nipple issues.

Feel

Sometimes, your nipples simply hurt. This is not a time to panic, as nipples are very sensitive and they can become irritated easily. Even minor changes can make your nipples feel sore.

Your nipples may feel slight pain for several reasons. A change in your laundry detergent or bath soap can irritate your nipples when your body comes in contact with new chemicals. Sore nipples can also be an early sign of pregnancy or portend your menstrual cycle. Mild pain may signify a hormone imbalance as well.

A cold compress may help ease pain around this area. Thankfully, this type of soreness often goes away after a short period of time. Pain or itchiness in the nipples rarely indicates breast cancer.

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Appearance

Your nipples may change appearance, and even look unseemly, but that doesn't mean you have breast cancer. The skin around your nipples, called the areola, may appear darker than the nipple itself. That is completely normal.

Little bumps that appear around your nipples are also normal. These natural bumps help lubricate your nipples for their intended purpose, which is to feed newborn babies. A few hairs may also crop up around your nipples, and there's nothing wrong with that either.

Even nipples that are inverted, which means they go inward and not outward, don't normally indicate breast cancer. Inverted nipples occur because of faulty connective tissues within your breast. If your nipples normally stick out, and then one or both start to invert, then you should probably see a doctor.

Discharge

Discharge from your nipples may present another concern about breast cancer — however, liquid discharge is normal in most cases. When the nipple is squeezed, breast milk may come out. Pregnancy and recently giving birth can cause breast milk to come out from your nipples as well.

However, one warning sign of breast cancer is when liquid appears without squeezing the area. If the discharge is clear or bloody, not milky, you should consider seeing a doctor. Liquid from just one breast, and not both, is also a sign of concern.

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When to Get Serious

Paget disease of the breast, a very rare kind of breast cancer that affects approximately 5 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer, has signs that usually involve the nipple. Watch out for itching, redness and/or tingling around a nipple. Your nipple might have crusting, flaking or thickened skin. Your nipple may flatten, or it might have a yellowish or bloody discharge.

These types of symptoms could last for several months. Doctors believe cancer cells from another tumor travel to the ducts near the nipple and cause problems. However, temporary itchiness that goes away after a few days is not usually a concern.

The Bottom Line

See a doctor if your nipples cause problems for more than one month. If your nipples appear normal for most of your life and then they change suddenly, consider talking to your physician. If one nipple changes but the other doesn't, or if a discharge occurs that isn't milky, make an appointment as soon as you can.

A lump in the breast is one sign of breast cancer, but other early warning symptoms may occur. The sooner your doctor detects breast cancer, the better your chances of recovery. Learn about other breast cancer symptoms here.

Only your doctor can make an accurate diagnosis. This article is for informational purposes only and is not actual medical advice.

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