An Overview of Gynecomastia

Enlarged male breasts are usually the result of a hormonal imbalance

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Gynecomastia is the enlargement of the glandular tissue in one or both of a boy or older male's breasts. The condition is benign (noncancerous) and very common: Anywhere from 30% to 65% of males, depending on age, have experienced this. Though it is not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and may impact someone's self-esteem.

This article will review the causes of gynecomastia, the symptoms someone may experience, and how it is treated.

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The first recorded breast surgery was done on a man with gynecomastia in A.D. 625, according to breast surgeon Susan Love. Breast surgery was not performed on a woman until over 1,000 years later, in 1897.

Symptoms

The main symptom of gynecomastia is enlarged breasts. It often begins as a slight bump or lump behind the nipple. This enlargement is usually painless, but some men experience tenderness. While it usually occurs in both breasts, it can occur in only one.

Causes

There are many reasons why gynecomastia develops, but the most common cause is a hormonal imbalance.

In breast tissue, there are receptors that can cause breast tissue to grow (estrogen receptors) or to not grow (androgen receptors). If a male has higher levels of estrogen than normal in their body, their breast tissue grows.

There are some periods in a male's life when they do have higher estrogen levels, including:

  • Birth: Many newborn boys have enlarged breasts as a result of the estrogen that's transferred from their mother in the womb. Newborn gynecomastia usually resolves spontaneously after about a month.
  • Puberty: Half of adolescent boys will experience gynecomastia, usually at around age 13 or 14. It often goes away on its own within six months to two years, but the condition can persist into adulthood.
  • Older adults: Decreasing levels of the hormone testosterone may contribute to the peak in gynecomastia incidence in men older than 50.

Other Causes

Gynecomastia may be caused by chronic conditions such as:

Use of certain drugs may also lead to enlarged breasts in men. For example:

  • CaroSpir (spironolactone), a heart medication
  • Nizoral (ketoconazole), an antifungal medication
  • Heartburn and ulcer medications
  • Certain supplements
  • Recreational drug use, including of cannabis, heroin, and amphetamines

Anabolic steroid use often causes irreversible gynecomastia as well. The injection of external testosterone inhibits the natural production of testosterone, which cannot recover quickly enough between steroid-injecting cycles to prevent estrogen predominance.

Gynecomastia can also result from treatments of prostate cancer, as the typical treatment given blocks the production of testosterone.

Lifestyle and environmental factors of gynecomastia can include:

  • Obesity
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Exposure to estrogens

Diagnosis

To diagnose gynecomastia, a healthcare provider will perform a physical exam of the breasts as well as the entire body to assess for any areas of concern.

It's important to be sure that a male's large breasts are due to excess growth of glandular tissue, which has a network of ducts that can be felt, and not excess fat tissue. Known as pseudo gynecomastia, this occurs when the breasts of overweight boys and men enlarge due to increased fat and not true breast tissue.

Blood tests to check hormone levels may also be performed. Sometimes imaging tests like a mammogram or ultrasound may also be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Although breast cancer is rare in men, representing less than 1% of all cases of the disease, those with gynecomastia often become anxious and seek medical attention, according to a Mayo Clinic report on a five-year review of findings. Only 1% of mammograms in men reveal breast cancer.

Treatment

If pseudo gynecomastia is determined to be the cause, your breast size will not decrease on its own. A combination of diet and exercise can help reduce total body fat percentage and, likely, the breast size.

In contrast, there are several possible treatment options for gynecomastia, and what is best for you depends on a few factors.

Waiting and Watching

No treatment may be needed at all. In a wait-and-watch approach, no specific treatment will be prescribed. If the breast tissue continues to enlarge or if other symptoms develop, further treatment may be recommended at a later date.

Disease Management

When gynecomastia is the result of an underlying health problem or use of a medication that may cause breast growth, treating that problem or discontinuing the medication usually improves the condition. Of course, this should be done under the advice of your healthcare provider.

In Pain?

Pain is more common in patients with gynecomastia that recently developed or has progressed rapidly. If breasts are tender, cold compresses may be applied. Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics (pain relievers) may also be used.

Medication

In cases in which the condition is persistent or causing discomfort, a healthcare provider may prescribe a brief (three-to-six-month) course of an estrogen-blocking drug called tamoxifen or Evista (raloxifene). This is most often tried in puberty.

Adult men may also be prescribed a short course of one of these drugs. However, this treatment is only effective in men whose breast tissue is tender and who have had the condition for less than a year.

Breast-Reduction Surgery 

Surgery is a common treatment for gynecomastia. Surgery is generally not recommended for adolescents until puberty is completed to be sure the breast tissue has stopped growing.

There are a number of surgical techniques used to reduce breast tissue, including removal of the glandular tissue and excess skin. The areola may also be reduced or repositioned. Liposuction (a surgical technique using suction) can remove excess fat.

Coping With Gynecomastia

Having gynecomastia can be difficult for some males to deal with. Theymay be embarrassed or insecure about their bodies. Younger males going through puberty have an especially hard time.

If experiencing any symptoms of depression, embarrassment, or any other negative feelings, it is important to remember that you're not alone. Gynecomastia is fairly common, and it can get better over time.

Talking about your feelings with supportive family members or friends can be very helpful. If needed, talking with a counselor or therapist may be needed to learn body acceptance and how to deal with these feelings.

Summary

Although gynecomastia, the enlargement of breast tissue in males, is not life-threatening, it can potentially cause discomfort or insecurity to the male who has it. There are many possible causes of gynecomastia, and it is important to seek medical attention to determine the cause and the best course of treatment, if any.

A Word From Verywell

Gynecomastia is a common problem among boys and men, and it's important to see your healthcare provider to rule out any medical cause for the condition. Though it may resolve on its own without treatment, gynecomastia can lead to feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, and even depression. If your condition persists and causes you discomfort, there are treatments—lifestyle changes, medication, and surgical procedures—that can help reduce the size of your breasts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you get rid of gynecomastia?

    The cause of gynecomastia needs to be found before determining the best treatment for it. For example, if it is caused by a medication, stopping that medication can resolve it.

  • Can gynecomastia go away on its own?

    Gynecomastia can go away on its own, especially if it develops in a time of a male's life, such as at birth or at puberty, when hormonal imbalances are temporary.

  • What happens if gynecomastia is not treated?

    There is no danger to gynecomastia not being treated. In some instances, the treatment recommended is to wait and watch to see if it progresses or causes symptoms.

  • Can exercise reduce gynecomastia?

    No. Only if large breasts are caused by obesity (called pseudo gynecomastia) can exercise and decreasing body fat possibly improve breast size.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kanakis GA, Nordkap L, Bang AK, et al. EAA clinical practice guidelines—gynecomastia evaluation and managementAndrology. 2019;7(6):778-793.

  2. Lemaine V, Cayci C, Simmons PS, Petty P. Gynecomastia in adolescent males. Semin Plast Surg. 2013;27(1):56-61. doi:10.1055/s-0033-1347166

  3. Niewoehner CB, Schorer AE. Gynaecomastia and breast cancer in men. BMJ. 2008;336(7646):709-13. doi:10.1136/bmj.39511.493391.BE

  4. Dickson G. Gynecomastia. American Family Physician. Apr 1, 2012.

  5. Taheri AR, Farahvash MR, Fathi HR, Ghanbarzadeh K, Faridniya B. The Satisfaction Rate among Patients and Surgeons after Periareolar Surgical Approach to Gynecomastia along with Liposuction. World J Plast Surg. 2016;5(3):287-292.

  6. Mayo Clinic. Enlarged breasts in men (gynecomastia).

Additional Reading

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process