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Male Breast Enlargement May Be Common

Condition Known as Gynecomastia May Occur in Nearly Half of Men
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 19, 2007 -- Gynecomastia, the enlargement of breast tissue in men, can be an embarrassing condition, but it is surprisingly common and usually benign.

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 Medicine.

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 effective.

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 says.

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.

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