Do newly inverted nipples indicate breast cancer?

I've read on the Internet that newly inverted nipples can be a symptom of breast cancer. The thing is I don't remember having these inverted nipples a while back so it must be something new... I didn't pay much attention, and it's scary, now that I know one possible cause for this can be cancer. I wasn't prepared at all! Am I worrying for nothing? I know Internet has the power of giving you the impression you're dying when you're searching for a symptom.


F, 38, New Jersey

You are correct that inverted nipples are one possible symptom of breast cancer, but there are other causes of nipple inversion that are normal and quite common. To begin with, approximately 10% to 20% of women are born with inverted or retracted nipples.  

Additionally, natural changes to the density of breast tissue that occur with aging can also cause nipple retraction or inversion. It's also possible to develop an inverted nipple during periods of rapid weight loss due to dieting.

The fact that you’re experiencing nipple inversion simultaneously in both breasts suggests to me that it’s probably not a symptom of breast cancer.

I can't offer you a proper diagnosis without an examination, but the likelihood of both nipples inverting simultaneously is low.

Still, it's important that you visit a physician for an examination -- especially if you have a family history of Paget's disease or other breast cancer diagnoses. Your physician will probably recommend a mammogram.

In the meantime I suggest you conduct a thorough self-examination looking for breast lumps, swelling, pain in the lymph nodes, nipple discharge, and any other possible symptoms of breast cancer. Inverted nipples alone are not a strong indication you have cancer, but it’s still vitally  important that you cover all bases.

When a malignancy invades the milk ducts (in what we call invasive ductal carcinoma) the growth can pull back on the nipple, causing it to invert below the level of the surrounding skin.

Whether or not your inverted nipples are an indication of breast cancer is not a question I can answer without a physical examination. In my experience nipple inversion occurring in both breasts at the same time is unlikely to be Paget's disease of the nipple or inflammatory breast cancer -- both of which are associated with inverted nipples.

Keep in mind there are other benign breast conditions which also cause nipples to invert. If you’ve recently experienced significant weight loss that could be one plausible explanation. Additionally, natural age-related changes to breast tissue which occur postmenopause also often lead to inverted nipples.

While I don't think your situation sounds like any cause for alarm, it definitely does call for a careful examination. Any change to the shape, size or feeling of your breasts  -- especially if accompanied by pain or discharge -- should be examined by a breast surgeon as soon as possible, at your earliest convenience. Your physician might also choose to send you for a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI after your physical examination.

First, the odds of having both nipples suddenly invert is unlikely. More than likely this has been present for some time. It is too easy to be evaluated by either a plastic surgeon or a breast surgeon. If indicated, a mammogram will be ordered.

I think if both nipples are inverted its a good sign. If just one is inverted, it could mean that a mass below it tethering the nipple and pulling it back (like the reigns of a horse). I think you are probably fine in the absence of other signs and symptoms but by all means you should have this examined by a pro.