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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The role of major duct excision and microdochectomy in the detection of breast carcinoma

Mary F Dillon13*, Shah R Mohd Nazri1, Shaaira Nasir1, Enda W McDermott13, Denis Evoy1, Thomas B Crotty2, Niall O'Higgins13 and Arnold DK Hill13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, St Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin 4, Ireland

2 Department of Pathology, St Vincent's University Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin 4, Ireland

3 Department of Surgery, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

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BMC Cancer 2006, 6:164  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-164

Published: 23 June 2006



The association of nipple discharge with breast carcinoma has resulted in numerous women undergoing exploratory surgery to exclude malignancy. The aim of this study was to determine whether pre-operative factors can identify those patients that are most at risk of carcinoma.


All patients over a 14-year period (1991–2005) who had a microdochectomy or subareolar exploration for the evaluation of nipple discharge were assessed. Patient characteristics, pre-operative imaging and pathological findings were analysed.


Of the 211 patients included in this study, 116 patients had pathological (unilateral, uniductal serous or bloody) discharge. On excision, 6% (n = 7) of patients with pathological discharge and 2.4% (n = 2) of patients with non-pathological discharge were diagnosed with carcinoma. Overall, major duct excision resulted in the diagnosis of carcinoma in 4.3% (n = 9), ADH/LCIS in 4% (n = 8), papilloma in 39% (n = 83), and duct ectasia or non-specific benign disease in 53% (n = 111) of patients. In the patients determined to have malignancy, 44% (n = 4) were premenopausal. No patient with a non-bloody discharge in the total population analysed (28%; n = 59/211), or in the population with a pathological discharge (21%; n = 24/116) was found to have carcinoma upon excision.


Microdochectomy or major duct excision performed for nipple discharge resulted in a low rate of malignancy on excision. Conservative management of non-bloody nipple discharge can be considered in patients with no other clinical or radiological signs of malignancy.