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Male Breast Development
Q: I suffer from gynecomastia. I am 16 years old. What do you recommend for me? Do I need surgery, drugs? Please help me.
A: You should know that breast development (gynecomastia) is very common and occurs in one third of normal males sometime during puberty (when the body is changing as you become an adult). One study reportedly found almost 40 percent of boys at a summer camp had gynecomastia. The condition may appear worse in overweight boys. Sometimes it's just a bit of tissue behind the nipple; other times it can be more prominent. You can have some tenderness of the breast, but that comes and goes. The condition can affect one or both sides and can persist for a year or two. Remember it's common--lots of boys get it--and most often not serious (assuming there is no family history of breast disease).
As you have experienced, it can create a great deal of stress and embarrassment. Since it is usually mild, we attempt to reassure boys that it's normal and nothing to worry about. In normal teenage gynecomastia, the only proven treatment is patience. If you are overweight, discuss weight loss with your doctor, including a healthy diet and excercise. If the enlargement is particularly apparent, persistent, or causing serious emotional problems for you, it would be worthwhile being evaluated by a physician. It is rare that it would persist or be so large as to warrant surgery. There are also some rare diseases associated with gynecomastia, but there would be other symptoms or findings upon physical examination that your pediatrician would be able to identify.
Try and relax! Be reassured that it's common, usually temporary, and will go away on its own with time.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.