Pierced Nipples and Breast Cancer

The Health Risks of Nipple Piercings

young woman touching breast
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Nipple piercings have become a growing trend, but the trend doesn't come without some health risks. The good news is that an increase in the risk of developing breast cancer doesn't appear to be one of them. Currently, there are no studies that show having pierced nipples increases the likelihood that you will develop breast cancer.

However, you should be concerned with the risk of infection—not just at the time of the piercing, but as long as you wear the jewelry and perhaps even longer.

Possible Health Risks Associated with Nipple Piercings

Some common problems that women experience after piercing their nipples are:

  • Bacterial Infections. All body piercings require proper care, or they can lead to infection. With the sensitive nature of breast and nipple tissue, nipple piercings can leave you susceptible to infection as it takes anywhere from a year to two years to heal completely. In some cases, piercing holes do not close, even after removing jewelry, leaving you potentially vulnerable to infection. This kind of infection can cause scar tissue, which might lead to problems in breastfeeding.
  • Formation of Abscesses. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found nipple piercings are associated with an increased risk of developing a subareolar breast abscess. Abscesses, or painful lumps of pus that can form just under the skin, can be very painful and must be drained. Other symptoms of an abscess include:
    • redness
    • swelling
    • weeping pus or bleeding

    An abscess will require the attention of your doctor to drain or surgically address it. Your doctor may also suggest a course of antibiotics to fight the infection and the piercing will probably need to be removed. 

    There are many kinds of breast lumps, many of which have nothing to do with breast cancer, but if you do experience anything abnormal in your breasts after piercing, like a breast lump or change in the appearance of the skin, do not assume that it is related to the piercing and does not warrant a visit with your doctor.

    Breast lumps always require medical evaluation, and an untreated infection can have long term health consequences. To monitor for these changes, women should do monthly breast self exams.

    How to Decrease the Risk of Infection Associated with Nipple Piercings

    To decrease the risk of infection associated with nipple piercings, you must consider the following:

    • Choose a Licensed Piercing Technician. When choosing a technician, make sure you select someone that is qualified, experienced and trained in principles of sterility. Under no circumstances should you or a friend attempt to pierce your own nipple.
    • Your Technician Must Use Sterile Piercing Techniques. Blood borne viruses and infections like Hepatitis and HIV can be passed on in the tiny amounts of blood attached to the piercing needle. There is a substantial risk of transmitting disease if sterile techniques are not used.
    • Ensure the Skin is Clean and Dry for the Procedure. Proper sanitation of the area is a must if you are considering a nipple piercing. 
    • Avoid Touching. During the healing process, avoid touching the piercing, unless it is to cleanse the area. Most piercing technicians do not advise in engaging in any sexual activity whilst healing is taking place as the mouth contains germs that may be transmitted to the piercing and trauma to the site can induce inflammation and increase the risk of infection. resulting in an infection. Choose supporting bras, soft fabrics and take care not to pull down on clothing too hard so as to avoid snagging the piercings.
    • Ask for Proper Aftercare Instructions. Your technician should provide you with this information without you having to ask. But be proactive and seek their advice, and then go home and be sure to follow through on the aftercare instructions they give you.

    Most people with nipple piercings do not experience adverse health effects from their piercings. This is only true, though, if you go to a licensed piercing technician who operates under strict sanitary conditions, and if you are diligent and thorough with the care of your piercings.


    Gollapalli, Vinod et al., Risk Factors for Development and Recurrence of Primary Breast Abscesses. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, Volume 211, Issue 1, 41-48.

    Painful Pleasures. Nipple Piercing Aftercare. Accessed Feb 10th, 2016

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