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When men grow breasts

By | March 4th 2012

However attractive female breasts are on the female body, they rapidly loose that attractiveness when affixed to the front of a man’s chest, writes DR MARGA BOYANI

Large breasts in a male are called gynaecomastia, a Greek term meaning "female-like-breasts." It is strictly a male disease.

Gynaecomastia is any growth of the tissues that form the male breast. Some boys and men have fat on their chests that makes it look like they have breasts. This is called pseudo-gynaecomastia and is not the same thing as real gynaecomastia.

In real gynaecomastia the enlarged male breast contains true breast tissue and it cannot be altered by weight loss.

Hormonal imbalance

Growth of the breasts in human beings is directed mainly by the female sex hormone oestrogen and although men do naturally have some oestrogen in their system, it is usually too little to cause much breast enlargement because it is counter-balanced by the male sex male hormone testosterone, which inhibits breast growth. An imbalance between these two hormones in a man is what causes breast growth.

Puberty is the most common cause of true gynaecomastia. The condition usually occurs by the age of 14 and disappears as the boy passes from puberty into full manhood. It is caused by the normal hormonal imbalances between testosterone and oestrogen that commonly occur at this stage.

It begins as a small lump beneath the nipple, which may be painful. One or both breasts enlarge.

Although this type of gynaecomastia does resolve on its own, it is embarrassing for an adolescent boy because he becomes the butt of cruel jokes and teasing, which is socially traumatising.

At birth, both male and female infants will have little breast buds with a little milk flow, caused by the mother’s hormones. They usually last a couple of weeks.

Gynaecomastia is also common in obese men because their fat tissue contains an enzyme that converts the male hormone testosterone to oestrogen, which stimulates breast growth.


Gynaecomastia will also occur in men with liver disease because a damaged liver, like that in liver cirrhosis, is no longer able to break down the female hormones that  naturally circulate in men’s bodies.

Some of the drugs that cause gynaecomastia also have the same effect on the liver.

Other causes of true gynaecomastia are oestrogens given to men to treat prostate cancer, an over-active thyroid gland and kidney failure. This is because they affect chemical processes in the body that affect hormonal levels.

Marijuana, heroin, alcohol, anabolic steroids taken by athletes and body builders, certain high blood pressure medications, certain anti-ulcer drugs and some drugs used in the management of HIV and Aids-related illnesses are also known to cause gynaecomastia.

Gynaecomastia could also be a sign of a cancer of the testes, the adrenal glands and lungs.

Any male who is unusually ample in the breast department should see their doctor and have it checked out.

How is gynaecomastia treated?

Before any treatment for gynaecomastia is considered, the actual cause is first sought and then treated.

A teenage boy needs reassurance that as adulthood approaches, his breast enlargement will normalise on its own within two or three years.

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