Managing a Benign Breast Condition
Shoshana explains how nipple discharge led to diagnosis and treatment.
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Shoshana first noticed discharge from her left nipple in 2015, when she was a sophomore in college. Three years later, she was diagnosed with a benign intraductal papilloma, a noncancerous, wart-like tumor that grows in milk ducts.
In this edited interview, Shoshana describes how she found the problem and her path to treatment.
ACOG: What did you do when you first noticed the discharge?
Shoshana: When it first started, the discharge only happened if I touched my nipple. I went to my gynecologist, who sent me for an ultrasound. There was nothing on the image, and I was told it was not an issue. But 3 years later it came back spontaneously, even if I was not touching it. I’d find the liquid in my bra at the end of the day.
ACOG: What was the discharge like?
Shoshana: It was the consistency of water. I was a little concerned. I started touching my nipple, and the discharge turned bloody. Once it was bloody, I was more concerned.
ACOG: What did you do next?
Shoshana: I went back to my gynecologist for more follow-up. I had another ultrasound, and then 3 weeks later I had a biopsy done by a surgical oncologist. They removed the entire duct that was causing the issue. It was outpatient surgery where I was sedated, but not unconscious, and it took about 3 hours.
ACOG: How did you prepare emotionally for the results?
Shoshana: Honestly, I was not all that concerned. They had told me best-case and worst-case scenarios and had said there was a low likelihood of it being a serious issue. The worst possible scenario was a stage zero cancer that had not progressed. But they assumed it was an intraductal papilloma (a benign breast problem), and they had just wanted to do the surgery to make sure. Luckily, the results did confirm that.
What I wasn’t able to prepare for was the physical effect of the surgery. I was totally bruised. The whole left side of my chest hurt, up to my shoulder. I couldn’t exercise or even carry a regular handbag for 2 weeks.
ACOG: How has this experience affected you, physically and emotionally?
Shoshana: Now that I’ve had a biopsy, I am more of a proponent for early detection and screening than ever before. When they told me it was benign, they also told me I will need a mammogram at age 40. I have always been on top of my health with cervical screenings, vaccinations, and all of that. I am even more aware of screenings now.
ACOG: Are you still having follow-up care?
Shoshana: No, they didn’t need to see me after the results came back. The stitches were dissolvable. That was it.
ACOG: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Shoshana: I had five health care professionals caring for me, since I was at an academic medical center. I was happy that my experience could provide medical education. But I realized I could have asked more questions myself.
I think I was probably overwhelmed from the beginning, when I was not expecting to have to get a biopsy. After I first got that news, I went home and realized I had way more questions than I had asked.
I opened up a bit and started asking questions after the surgery. I was surprised by the incision on my areola – I wasn’t expecting it to be located there. So I called the office and the nurse explained the whole procedure for me. They also explained that I would still be able to breastfeed, if I have a baby later in life.
ACOG: What would you tell other women who have nipple discharge?
Shoshana: I would definitely tell people not to ignore it. For me, it felt better to get some sort of answer about what was going on.
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Published: October 2020
Last reviewed: October 2020
Copyright 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.