Male Breast Enlargement May Be Common
Condition Known as Gynecomastia May Occur in Nearly Half of Men
Sept. 19, 2007 -- Gynecomastia, the enlargement of breast tissue in men, can
be an embarrassing condition, but it is surprisingly common and usually
Overall, nearly half of men may experience the condition at some time in
their lives, says Glenn D. Braunstein, MD, chairman of the department of
medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the author of an
article on the topic in the Sept. 20 issue of The New England Journal of
Later in life, in middle age and older adulthood, the condition can also
appear or reappear, says Braunstein, who wrote the article to inform doctors
about how to diagnose and treat the condition.
During puberty, the condition is even more common, he tells WebMD. "Up
to two-thirds of boys will develop gynecomastia during puberty," he says,
although some cases will be so mild they go unnoticed.
The good news: Gynecomastia during puberty generally disappears on its own.
Later in life, the problem can often be traced to medications or treatments for
prostate cancer. Treatment options, including medication and surgery, are very
What Causes Gynecomastia?
Underlying the condition is an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone. When
estrogen levels get too high, the breasts can begin to grow. Some breast tissue
is more sensitive to estrogen than others, Braunstein tells WebMD.
As the body mass index, a measure of height to weight, increases, so does
the chance of gynecomastia, he says. So the heavier the teen or man, the more
likely he may get the condition. But "gynecomastia occurs even in
normal-weight kids," he says.
Gynecomastia in Puberty
When gynecomastia occurs during puberty, it usually appears at about age 13
or 14, Braunstein says.
And if the enlarged breasts are noticeable, already self-conscious preteens
can become embarrassed. "The kids are often socially conscious," he
says. "They don't want to take their shirts off. They fear they are
becoming like girls."
Depending on how enlarged the breasts are, there can also be tenderness.
"[The breasts] can hurt when they are physically active," Braunstein
A pediatrician should do a thorough physical exam, Braunstein tells WebMD,
making sure there are no tumors, thyroid problems, or other medical conditions
that might explain the breast growth.
Recently, doctors have found that use of products containing
lavender oil or tea tree oil may trigger breast growth in preteen boys,
says Braunstein, citing a study published earlier in 2007. The boys who
developed the breast growth had been using a lavender oil skin balm, a hair gel
with lavender and tea tree oils, or lavender-scented soap and skin lotions.
When they stopped using the products, their breasts returned to normal within a
After ruling out other conditions, a pediatrician typically suggests waiting
to see if the gynecomastia disappears, Braunstein says, typically telling the
patient to return in three months.