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Understanding Male Breast Tenderness and Pain

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Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Understanding Male Breast Tenderness and Pain
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Men might not like to think of themselves as having breasts, but a look at any men's swimsuit catalog will prove that there are male breasts. Overlying those masculine chest muscles is a relatively slim layer of breast tissue -- and this is where male breast pain occurs. Anyone with breast tissue -- male and female -- is at risk for breast cancer, but it is quite rare in men. Male breast pain is seldom a sign of male breast cancer.

Hormones Influence Female and 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 our 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 the development of milk-producing glands and increases breast size. Pregnancy completes female breast development.

Adolescence And Male Breast Growth:

Some young men will 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. Gynecomastia, a benign male breast condition, can also occur during puberty. Young women may have a similar experience during breast growth and the beginning of menstrual periods.

Genetics and Male Breasts:

Men may be born with genetic conditions that affect their breast health. A man with an extra X chromosome may have Klinefelter syndrome, which results in larger breasts and smaller testicles. Men who carry the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for men as well as women to know their family health history so they can be proactive about screening and living a healthy lifestyle.

Common Causes For Male Breast Pain:

Most causes of male breast pain are relatively benign. A few things that may cause male breast pain are:
  • Breast injury - from sports or work-related activities
  • Runner's nipple - irritated or bloody nipples caused during jogging
  • Mastitis - an infection of breast tissue
  • Breast cyst - a fluid-filled sac that may press on surrounding tissue
  • Fibroadenoma - rare in men, a benign breast tumor composed of glandular and fibrous breast tissue
  • Alcoholism with liver damage

Help With Male Breast Pain:

If a you have breast pain, start by examining the painful area and try to determine what is causing the pain. If you have a bruise or runner's nipple, try hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin. Mastitis, a cyst, or a fibroadenoma will all require a doctor's examination and prescription drugs or surgical intervention. You should always see a doctor if you discover a breast lump. If you have overused alcohol and developed liver damage, get professional help to quit drinking and support to stay sober.

Male Breast Cancer:

Most men who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not feel breast pain. For men with a family history of breast cancer, doing a male breast self exam is an easy way to be aware of any changes in your breast. Changes to watch out for include:
  • A firm lump under your areola (most common)
  • A firm lump anywhere in your breast tissue (less common)
  • A hard mass that won't move, or feels stuck to chest muscles
  • Breast skin dimples or puckers that don't resolve
  • Red, scaly skin on breast, areola, or nipple
  • Nipple discharge or retraction
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your armpit

Male Breast Pain From Other Sources:

Sometimes you may feel that you have breast pain, but the source is really in your chest wall muscles, your ribs, or your spine. Be sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack, so you don't brush it off as "just breast pain." Finally, if you have a nipple piercing, expect some pain during the three to six months it takes to heal. Doing your male breast exam is a good way to recognize changes in your breast tissue so you can be proactive in the case of any male breast pain.

Sources:

Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health. Last Updated: 12/31/2008.

Mammary duct ectasia and periductal mastitis in males. Jamal K. Al-Masad, MD, FRCS. Saudi Med J 2001; Vol. 22 (11): 1030-1033.

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