|Adolescent Health and
: Breast Enlargement in Adolescent Boys
Why does this occur?
Enlarged or swollen breasts are seen quite frequently in teenage
boys. This is called "pre-pubertal gynecomastia". As a
boy enters puberty, many hormones are made that act to develop
the secondary sex characteristics such as, pubic hair, genital
growth and deeper voice. This complex process, controlled by the
brain, results in high levels of hormones in the body. Some of
these hormones originate from and thus resemble female hormones.
In some boys the levels are so high, the breast gets stimulated
to grow by the female type of hormones. It is not unusual that
some boys, and even girls, develop breast buds at a different
pace; in other words, one breast is larger than the other. This
occurs because there may be a difference in sensitivity to the
hormone by each breast. Because the breast tissue is stimulated,
the breast may be tender or painful. A thorough physical examination
is usually enough to confirm the diagnosis related to pubertal
changes which usually resolve in 1-2 years. Once the cause is
confirmed, some pressure is taken off as there is no need to worry.
How can boys cope with enlarged breasts?
Although not a serious medical problem, the social effects of
enlarged breasts on boys may be quite worrisome. Adolescent boys
are quite sensitive to being picked on, and of course this can
be a source of embarrassment in public. While recognizing that
this is a potential source of stress and shame, the answer is
not to completely withdraw from activities that expose the enlarged
Depending on the situation, a boy can wear a T-shirt with a bathing
suit saying that he was sun-burned as an example. On the other
hand if a boy understands that it is just a temporary and normal
part of growing up and is mature enough to be able to tell this
to his friends and school mates, this is another route.
The extent to which a boy should shy away from these situations
depends on the degree of shame or embarrassment the affected boy
feels... not necessarily what he is called. Happily, in most situations
boys can live through this period and really not suffer psychologically
in the long term. Support, understanding and clear explanations
go a long way in helping teenage boys deal with temporarily enlarged
breasts during puberty.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE:
As you can see form the survey below, published in the New England Journal of Medicine(1993;328:490-5), a fair amount of normal teenage boys experience breast enlargement.
Survey results: Normal teenage boys with breast enlargement:
1865 American scouts, aged 10 to 16 - 39%
993 Turkish schoolboys, aged 9 to 17 - 7%
29 American schoolboys, at puberty - 69%
681 Italian schoolboys, aged 11 to 14 - 33%
135 Swiss youths, aged 8.5 to -17.5 - 22%
377 American schoolboys, aged 10 to 15 - 49%
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