Health Risks of Pierced Nipples

The health risks of nipple piercings

young woman touching breast
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Nipple piercings come with some health risks. While it is rare, breast cancer may develop in and around the pierced nipple. The most common adverse effects of nipple piercing are infections and bleeding, which can occur shortly after getting a piercing or may develop years afterwards.

The biggest concern regarding the relationship between breast cancer and nipple piercing is that the jewelry can interfere with diagnostic images, and some people avoid getting diagnostic tests because they don't want to remove their jewelry.

Health Risks of Nipple Piercings

Men and women who have nipple piercings can experience skin redness, irritation, bleeding, pus, or drainage. These are all signs of an infection. Warmth of the area or a fever, which are less common, are signs of a rapidly worsening infection.

The most common types of nipple infections include:

Bacterial Infections

All body piercings require proper care as they heal, and the "open wound" of any piercing can easily become infected. Nipple piercings take anywhere from a year to two years to completely heal. In some cases, piercing holes do not close, even after removing jewelry, leaving you potentially vulnerable to infection. 

Bacteria from the skin is the most common source of infection, but you can also become infected from bacterial contamination after swimming in a pool or a pond.

Hepatitis

An infection that affects the liver, hepatitis B is a virus that is often transmitted through contaminated blood. Needles, particularly in tattoo and piercing settings, are among the sources of this virus.

Abscesses

Abscesses are painful lumps of pus that can form just under the skin, and they are common complications of nipple piercings. Symptoms of an abscess include redness, swelling, weeping pus, or bleeding.

A nipple access cannot be treated with oral (by mouth) or intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Instead, they must be drained and cleaned, often surgically. After your procedure, your doctor may also suggest a course of antibiotics to fight the infection, and your piercing will probably need to be removed to prevent further infections.

In addition to infections, nipple piercings can cause rare complications, including allergic reactions to jewelry and breast tumors.

Tumors

While it is uncommon, nipple piercings have been associated with breast tumors. Because it is rare, it is not always possible to know whether the piercing caused the tumor to develop, or whether the cancer was coincidental.

If you develop a lump, growth, hardening, or change in the appearance of your breast or nipple, it is important that you have it evaluated. If your doctor orders an imaging test, such as a mammogram or a breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study, you may need to remove all of your jewelry so that it doesn't interfere with the image.

You may also need to have a breast or nipple biopsy, which could potentially alter the shape of your nipple piercing. And if you have cancer that requires radiation treatment, then you may be asked to remove jewelry from your nipple during and after radiation treatments.

Decreasing the Risks of Nipple Piercings

Tumors associated with nipple piercings are rare, so the best prevention is to be observant and to look for any changes in your breasts or nipples. While this won't prevent breast cancer, it can prevent the disease from worsening if you develop it.

There are a number of steps you can take to decrease the risk of infections after getting your nipple pierced.

Choose a Licensed Piercing Technician: When choosing a technician, make sure you select someone who is qualified, experienced, and trained in sterile techniques.

Under no circumstances should you or a friend attempt to pierce your own nipple.

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 your piercing technician does not use sterile techniques.

Clean Your Skin: Your own skin must be clean, dry, and free of any infection to avoid contamination of the piercing.

Avoid Touching: During the healing process, avoid touching your piercing, unless it is to cleanse the area. Most piercing technicians advise avoiding sexual activity while healing is taking place because hands and mouths contain germs that may be transmitted to the pierced wound.

Any trauma around the piercing can cause bleeding and increase the risk of infection. Choose supportive bras, soft fabrics and be careful to avoid pulling down on your clothing to avoid snagging the piercings.

Follow Proper Aftercare Instructions: Your technician should provide you with information about cleansing, bandaging, and caring for your piercing. Be sure to follow through on the aftercare instructions they give you.

A Word From Verywell

Most people with nipple piercings do not experience adverse health effects from their piercings. But it's important that you take care of your health so that you can avoid having to deal with any short term or long term complications.

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