If your adolescent son is developing breasts, there are many things you need to know. In the field of medicine, the condition is called “gynecomastia,” meaning literally, “woman-like breasts.” On the home front, this can be a very difficult subject to tackle, but it’s wise to try to have a calm, objective discussion to help your young man through a tough time.
And tough time it is, whether or not your youngster can bring himself to talk about it. “Man boobs” or “moobs” can be devastating to the self-confidence at a time when it is already fragile. Add in all the ways youngsters can be cruel to each other, and you have a recipe for a difficult few years.
Some basics to understand and discuss include:
Estimates of teens with the dreaded moobs run as high as 65 percent (Family Doctor 1).
Most male breasts contain at least some breast gland tissue. Very overweight teens may have moobs consisting of fat with no excess gland (Ianelli 1).
Drugs/alcohol can play a part in man boobs, as can medical conditions, but most often a hormonal imbalance prompts breast tissue in males (Mayo Clinic 1).
For many teens, breast tissue growth does not progress to the point where it’s noticeable, and it often goes away as hormone swings level out (Ianelli 1).
How do you help your teen cope with gynecomastia? You may want to make an appointment with your son’s primary care physician. He or she should be quite familiar with the condition and should be able to offer reassurance that the man boobs are most likely temporary. If the condition resolves on its own, experts say it could take two to three years (Family Doctor 1). In some cases, your family doctor may refer your son to an endocrinologist for examination of hormone levels.
Along with a doctor visit, you might consider purchasing a compression vest for your son to try. There are many sources you can find easily on the Internet.
There are also several forums on the Web your son might want to visit, like gynecomastia.org. You should check them out first to be sure you’re comfortable with the discussions, as most of the men who post are not teens. But rest assured, even if the language is occasionally rough your son may derive plenty of comfort in knowing others have the same problem he does.
In rare and extreme cases, your son’s doctor may suggest a drug like tamoxifen. By acting as an estrogen suppressor, this type of medication can reduce male breasts. Note that this use is “off label,” in terms of FDA approval, and be sure to research this option well (Family Doctor 1).
Finally, many men and some teens opt for male breast reduction surgery. While it may seem like an extreme step to take, if your son’s gynecomastia has persisted for many months, even years, it may be a good choice. Even if you believe there’s a chance the condition could disappear over time, if your child is experiencing extreme embarrassment, this is an option you may want to consider. In the right (read: very experienced) hands, gynecomastia surgery is relatively non-invasive, permanent and effective (ASAPS 1).
Family Doctor. Gynecomastia: When Breasts Form in Males. Web. August 20, 2011. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/men/general/080.html
Ianelli, Vincent. Gynecomastia: Teenagers. About.com Pediatrics. Updated March 16, 2006. Web. August 20, 2011.
Mayo Clinic. Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men). Web. August 20. 2011. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gynecomastia/DS00850/DSECTION=causes
Braunstein, Glenn D. Patient information: Gynecomastia (breast enlargement in men). Up to Date. August 20, 2011.
Reviewed August 24, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith