By Dr. Kathleen Ruddy

The fear of breast cancer is a very real one for most women, and understandably so. Any change in breast appearance or discovery of variation in the way your breasts look by comparison to those of other women can quickly stir up fears. In some cases, inverted nipples can be a warning sign that something’s wrong, perhaps cancer, or potentially another, less serious medical condition. In other cases, inverted nipples are simply a normal variation in anatomy.

What are Inverted Nipples?

Inverted nipples are those that sink or turn inward rather than protruding outward. While inverted nipples are sometimes called retracted nipples, there is a difference between the two. Retracted nipples, instead of sinking or turning inward, rest flat against or flush with the rest of the breast when not stimulated.

What if Your Nipples Have Always been Inverted?

Women born with inverted nipples often worry that this completely normal and relatively common anatomical variation could predispose them to one day develop breast cancer, or that the inversion of their nipples is a sign breast cancer is already present. This is especially true when they encounter information stating inflammatory breast cancer is also known as inverted nipple breast cancer. While it’s true that inverted nipples can be a warning sign of many health conditions, not just breast cancer, sometimes inverted nipples are just inverted nipples. In other words, their presence in the human population (male and female) is nothing more than normal anatomical variation within the species.


Approximately 10 to 20 percent of women are born with retracted or inverted nipples. Retracted nipples, which are sometimes referred to as “shy” nipples, will erect under stimuli, such as breastfeeding, massage, or exposure to cold temperatures. True, congenital inverted nipples on the other hand, never protrude, even when stimulated. This is usually due to connective tissues, like ligaments, holding them in their position.

When Should You Worry about Inverted Nipples?

When inverted nipples develop later in life, it can potentially be a sign of a problem. Any change in your breasts, visually observed or discover through self breast examinations, should be discussed with your physician to rule out potential issues. If nipple inversion occurs, don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily indicate inverted nipple breast cancer. There are a number of other conditions that can cause this anatomical change. Simply make an appointment to follow up with your doctor and get to the root of the change.

What are Other Causes of Inverted Nipples?

Pregnant womanPregnancy, breastfeeding, and normal changes in breast tissue density that occur with age can all lead to inverted nipples. Some breast infections can additionally cause nipples to invert. Rapid weight loss is another potential cause for this change in nipple appearance. Of course, there are several forms of cancer that can result in the condition, including inflammatory breast cancer, Paget’s disease, and breast carcinoma. The only way to know for certain what’s caused your nipple inversion is to see your doctor.

If your nipples have always been inverted, you can relax; you’re perfectly normal. If however, your nipples only recently became inverted, it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment. Though it may be nothing, or something very simple and totally benign causing your nipples to invert, it could be something much more serious, like breast cancer. You’ll only know for sure by checking in with your physician.


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