Causes of Male Breast Pain and Swelling

Gynecomastia, Breast Cancer, and Other Male Breast Concerns

While we usually think of women when we talk of breasts, men have breasts, too. And like women, they at times have to cope with breast pain, breast enlargement, nipple pain, and even breast cancer.

Unfortunately, in our breast-fixated society, it can be embarrassing for a man to bring up concerns he has about his breasts. And, most of the time, men don't sip a cup of tea and talk to other men about their breast pain.

Let's take a close look at some of the potential causes of breast pain or swelling in men, including when men may need to be concerned about male breast cancer.

causes of male breast pain and swelling
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Male Breast Development

Before puberty begins and hormone levels shift and rise, female and male breasts look very much alike. Children's breasts in both genders are primarily skin, fat, and connective tissue supporting a nipple and areola.

In the early teen years, the gender-specific hormones begin to transform our bodies for adulthood. In men, testosterone encourages testicular growth and usually prevents breast development. In women, estrogen signals developing milk-producing glands and increases breast size. Pregnancy completes female breast development.

Causes of Breast Swelling

Men often experience breast growth during adolescence. This is a normal process caused by hormonal changes and can produce breast swelling and tenderness, but probably won't cause breast pain.

This abnormal growth in breast tissue—known by the medical term gynecomastia—often occurs in men over the age of 50 due to slowdown in the production of testosterone.

Age is not the only thing that can influence breast growth. Gynecomastia is caused by any condition that can alter the production of hormones involved in breast physiology, either by stimulating estrogen or inhibiting testosterone. Even young boys and teens can develop gynecomastia.

In addition to being a process linked to aging, gynecomastia can also occur as a result of:

  • Liver disease
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Kidney disease
  • Diseases of the testes
  • Testicle trauma (including testicular torsion)
  • Obesity
  • Hemochromatosis (iron overload)
  • Klinefelter syndrome
  • HIV infection
  • Hyperparathyroidism

Certain drugs can also cause gynecomastia, including amiodarone, amphetamines, calcium channel blockers, cimetidine, diazepam, isoniazid, ketoconazole, marijuana, methotrexate, spironolactone, and tricyclic antidepressants. Long-term use or overuse of these medications can increase the risk, especially in older men.

Cause of Breast Pain

Most causes of male breast pain are relatively benign. A few of the more common causes of male breast pain include:

  • Breast injury: An injury to the breast (from sports, motor accidents, etc.) can sometimes cause the death of fatty tissue (breast fat necrosis), cause a lump or dimpling of the breast that is similar in appearance o breast cancer.
  • Runner's nipple: It's not uncommon for men to develop irritated or bloody nipples from jogging. Just as friction over other areas of the body can cause discomfort, friction over the nipples can result in pain and bleeding.
  • Mastitis: An infection of breast tissue called mastitis can occur in men as well as women.
  • Breast cyst: A breast cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the breast and may occur in men as well as women. 
  • Fibroadenoma: While uncommon in men, a benign breast tumor composed of glandular and fibrous breast tissue known as a fibroadenoma may occur.

Male Breast Cancer

Breast cancer in men is certainly much less common than in women—there are 100 cases diagnosed in women for every case diagnosed in men—but considering how common breast cancer is in women, male breast cancer does occur.

Male breast cancer is a rare disease, accounting between 0.5 % and 1% of all cancers in men. Still, around 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States each year, with most occurring in men over 60. Common risk factors include a family history of breast cancer, obesity, Klinefelter syndrome, and radiation exposure.

Symptoms of breast cancer in men are similar to those in women:

  • A lump or swelling  
  • Breast skin dimples or puckers that don't resolve
  • Red, scaly skin on breast, areola, or nipple
  • Nipple retraction 
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your armpit

Most men with breast cancer do not experience any pain, but this should not lead you to assume that a breast lump is not cancer if it is accompanied by pain.

For men with a family history of breast cancer, doing a male breast self-exam (MBSE) is an easy way to be aware of any changes in your breasts.

Men and women who carry the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. It's important to know your family history of cancer so you can be proactive about screening for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation.

A Word From Verywell

A very important point to consider for men experiencing breast pain—especially men over 50—is whether the pain is originating in your breast or could be coming from somewhere else.

If you have breast pain, start by examining the painful area and try to determine what is causing the pain. If there is a breast lump of any sort, do not hesitate to see a doctor. Even though breast cancer is rare in men, it can occur. By diagnosing and treating cancer early, you will almost invariably have better outcomes.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Costanzo PR, Pacenza NA, Aszpis SM, et al. Clinical and etiological aspects of gynecomastia in adult males: a multicenter study. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:8364824. doi:10.1155/2018/8364824

  2. Goldman RD. Drug-induced gynecomastia in children and adolescents. Can Fam Physician. 2010;56(4):344-5.

  3. Vasei N, Shishegar A, Ghalkhani F, Darvishi M. Fat necrosis in the breast: a systematic review of clinical. Lipids Health Dis. 2019;18(1):139. doi:10.1186/s12944-019-1078-4

  4. Ruddy KJ, Winer EP. Male breast cancer: risk factors, biology, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. Ann Oncol. 2013;24(6):1434-43. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdt025

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