The medical condition known as Gynecomastia (or Gynaecomastia) is something that effects a not insignificant percentage of the male population at some time in their lives. In many cases it can be both embarrassing and distressing, particularly in the case of younger males. However, whilst a recognised and proven surgical solution has for long been available, many sufferers have simply been too ashamed to go and seek help.
The word comes from the Greek word gyne, meaning “woman”, and mastos, meaning “breast”. In practical terms, this means a female type breast present on a man.
“Gynecomastia can be an embarrassing condition, but it is surprisingly common, especially in adolescent boys,” says Dr Allen Rezai, Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon and founder of Elite Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Group in Dubai Healthcare city. “Overall, almost half of all men may experience the condition at some time in their lives. The condition can also appear or re-appear later in life, in middle age and older adulthood,” says Dr Rezai. “Gynecomastia during puberty generally disappears on its own. Later in life, the problem can often be traced to medications or treatments for prostate cancer.”
Dr Rezai continues:
“Underlying the condition, especially during puberty, is an imbalance of oestrogen (the female hormone) and testosterone (the male hormone). When oestrogen levels get too high, the breast glands can begin to grow. In about 90% of cases the condition disappears of its own accord with maturity, but for the remaining 10% the problem persists into adulthood.
“When Gynecomastia occurs during puberty, it usually appears at around the age of 13 or 14. If the enlarged breasts are clearly visible, an already self-conscious teenager will frequently become embarrassed. And depending upon how enlarged the breasts are, there might also be some sensitivity and tenderness.
“A paediatrician should also carry out a thorough physical examination to be sure that there are no tumours, thyroid problems, or other medical conditions that might explain the breast growth. After ruling out other conditions, they will typically recommend waiting a few months to see if the gynecomastia disappears. In the majority of cases it will indeed disappear within about 3 to 6 months,” says Dr Rezai.
"Most teenagers do not need any treatment for Gynecomastia," declares Dr Rezai. “But if the breasts are very tender and the patient is troubled by a large amount of growth, then a doctor might recommend a course of medication. This will typically work by interfering with the oestrogen activity within the breast cells, thereby stopping the growth. Published studies indicate that about 60 percent of patients undergoing such therapy have complete regression from Gynecomastia. However in the cases where it does not help, male chest reduction or liposuction can be carried out.”
When Gynecomastia occurs later in life, it is usually also due to an imbalance of hormones, says Dr Rezai. “This is because in older men, testosterone levels decrease whilst oestrogen levels increase. This is often accompanied by an increase in body fat, which increases the likelihood of the condition. Certain medications, particularly those used in the treatment of prostate cancer, can also lead to excess breast growth in men. In such cases doctors can try changing the medication associated with the breast growth. But as in the case of young males, when this fails to produce the desired result, recourse can be made to surgery such as breast reduction or liposuction to remove the excess tissue.”