Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

Man boobs explained: gynaecomastia FAQs

Click on the links below to jump to the relevant questions:

What is gynaecomastia?

Often referred to as ‘man boobs’, gynaecomastia is a common condition that causes boys’ and men’s breasts to swell and appear larger than normal. It mostly affects teenage boys and older men.

What are the signs of gynaecomastia?

There could be a small amount of excess tissue around the nipples, or the breasts can look quite prominent. It can affect one or both breasts.

What causes gynaecomastia?

Hormone imbalance

It can be caused by an imbalance between the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone. While all men produce some oestrogen (which causes breast tissue to grow), most have far higher levels of testosterone. But if the balance of hormones changes, it can cause a man’s breasts to grow.

Obesity

Being very overweight can increase levels of oestrogen, which can cause breast tissue to grow.

Excess oestrogen in newborns

Oestrogen can pass through the placenta from a mother to a newborn baby boy; however, this is temporary and will disappear after a few weeks.

Puberty

Puberty causes boys’ hormone levels to vary. If testosterone drops, oestrogen can take over and cause breast tissue to grow. This is common but usually clears up as the teenage boy gets older and his hormone levels stabilise.

Older age

Men start to produce less testosterone as they grow older (over 70 years). They also tend to have more body fat later in life, which can cause more oestrogen to be produced. This can lead to excess breast tissue growth.

Prostate cancer treatment

This can increase the chance of developing gynaecomastia in some men.

Other medication side effects

Some medicines, such as anti-ulcer drugs or heart disease medication, can cause gynaecomastia in rare cases.

Illegal drugs

Cannabis or anabolic steroids can cause gynaecomastia in rare cases.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to gynaecomastia in rare cases.

Health abnormality

Kidney failure or liver disease, for example, can cause gynaecomastia in rare cases.

Klinefelter’s syndrome

This rare genetic disorder could cause gynaecomastia to occur.

Lumps or infection in the testicles

A rare cause of gynaecomastia.

Is gynaecomastia painful?

Sometimes the breast tissue can feel painful or tender, but not in all cases. If you do have a painful lump on your chest then you should always see your GP.

What’s the difference between gynaecomastia and chest fat?

Gynaecomastia

Chest fat

Caused by excess breast tissue or glandular tissue growth

Caused by excess fat in the breast area

The breast feels firm, irregular and sometimes tender

The breast feels soft and never painful

The hard tissue is usually located under the nipple but can extend beyond the areola

The soft fat can be felt across the entire breast, usually in an overweight or obese person

The tissue can only be removed surgically

Can be reduced through diet and exercise

Can gynaecomastia turn into cancer?

Gynaecomastia is not caused by a tumour but by benign breast tissue, and is not related to breast cancer. However, both breast cancer and gynaecomastia can be felt as a growth under the nipple, so it’s important to have any lumps checked by your doctor.

How is gynaecomastia treated?

In many cases, no treatment is needed – particularly in teenage boys, who usually grow out of the condition once their hormones settle. If a particular medication is thought to be causing gynaecomastia, treatment could be to simply change to a different medication. If you are overweight then losing weight or exercising more could help the condition.

But surgery is often considered the best solution. This involves removing the excess breast tissue via a small cut around the nipple. This is a routine procedure and complications are uncommon. However, risks are increased if the patient smokes or is overweight, so it’s important to be in good physical condition before undergoing surgery.

Is gynaecomastia surgery painful?

Surgery for gynaecomastia is done with the patient under either local or general anaesthetic so it is not painful. However, you can expect some pain during recovery and this will depend, in part, on which type of treatment you have had:

  • Liposuction is used to treat gynaecomastia comprising of excess fat
  • Surgery is used to treat gynaecomastia formed by a firm lump of breast tissue

Surgery can be more painful than liposuction as it is a more invasive procedure and can involve the removal of excess skin, whereas liposuction removes the fat from under the skin. In some cases both liposuction and surgery will be required.

You can expect some tenderness and discomfort after either treatment, but this can be controlled with medication.

How much does male breast reduction surgery cost?

The cost will depend on the extent of the gynaecomastia and whether it affects one or both breasts. Prices will also differ depending on the experience of the surgeon.

Stephen McCulley is a highly experienced consultant plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon and charges the following to treat gynaecomastia:

  • Gynaecomastia (minor bilateral) from £4,200
  • Gynaecomastia (major bilateral) from £5,175

You can find out more about what is covered in these costs here.

Is it cheaper to have gynaecomastia surgery abroad?

Cosmetic surgery is often cheaper abroad but there are risks associated with this:

  • It may be more difficult to determine the credentials of surgeons operating abroad as they don’t need to comply with the UK’s strict guidelines.
  • Follow-up treatment and aftercare with the surgeon may require further trips overseas.
  • If something goes wrong, you may have to stay in the clinic for longer, which could affect your return travel plans.

You can find out more about the risks of having surgery abroad here.

Is the surgery available on the NHS?

Treatment for gynaecomastia is not usually available on the NHS. However, in some cases you may be entitled to treatment if you’ve had the condition for a long time, if you’ve tried other treatments and these have not helped, and if the condition is causing you pain or distress.

How long does it take to recover from male breast reduction surgery?

As a general rule you should expect to have at least three days off work, and swelling and bruising can last around one to two weeks. You can expect to recover completely from the procedure in a few weeks.

Is it possible to get rid of male breasts without surgery?

In some cases prominent breasts are caused by excess chest fat. This is known as pseudogynaecomastia and losing weight and exercising more can help to reduce fat in this area.

Hormone imbalances can cause excessive male breast tissue, as can certain types of medication. Speaking to your GP is the first step in identifying what is causing your gynaecomastia and if there are non-surgical ways to treat it.

For some men, surgery is the only option to rectify the condition.

Where can I find out more?

To find out more about having surgery for gynaecomastia, see our male breast reduction page or contact Stephen McCulley and his team on 0115 962 4535.