Last week, a Botswana weekly ran a story of a Chinese man whose girlfriend forced him to have breast reduction surgery because his man boobs made her look flat.
“She said that whenever we went out, she felt embarrassed because my breasts were eye-catching compared to hers,” explained the man, Zhang Jianguo, who stands at 5ft 7ins tall and weighs 15 stone.
The report went on to say that doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University sucked out more than 200ml of fat and tissue from his breasts.
But why do men have breasts in the first place? It’s not like we use them for anything. It appears as if every part of our body has some function but when it comes to breasts, there seems to be a general view that men’s breasts serve no purpose.
Keep in mind that all humans begin life in the womb as females and we are built to a common pattern.
“If no Y chromosome is present in the foetus, then the embryo will continue to develop as and be born as a female,” wrote Terence Hollingworth in The Beautiful Body. “If there is a Y chromosome present in the embryo, the male sex hormone testosterone restricts the full development of breasts to just nipples…”
And the breasts can enlarge if one is overweight, “simply because fat has settled there. They can also enlarge because the actual breast tissue is overdeveloped”, and this is called gynaecomastia.
Sue Toye of the University of Toronto says that some men who develop female-like breasts on one or both sides have this disorder known as gynecomastia, and explains that this can be caused by hormone changes due to puberty, hormone disorders, drugs or alcohol abuse.
Familydoctor.org says that gynecomastia is a condition in which firm breast tissue forms in males. The breast tissue is usually less than 1-1/2 inches across and is located directly under the nipple. Gynecomastia may be present on one side or on both sides. This condition may make the breast tender.
It goes on to say that gynecomastia is usually caused by changes in hormones at puberty or as part of aging.
“Gynecomastia may be caused by changes in the balance of 2 hormones: estrogen and testosterone.”
In rare cases, it says, gynecomastia may be caused by prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, illegal drugs, tumors or disease.
“There is no known biological function for breasts in men,” explains Dr. Eldad Zacksenhaus in answer to a question posed by Jabulani Petto of Gaborone, Botswana. “We can only speculate on this issue.”
The associate professor of the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine says most of what is known about breast development in human embryos has been learned by studying mice.
“For example, both female and male mouse embryos sprout mammary buds when they are just a few days old. On the 13th day, however, a male embryo’s testes begin to secrete androgens (testosterone) to suppress the mammary glands from developing further and to stop development of the nipples.”
He says female mice embryos have five pairs of mammary glands but, unlike males, these embryos develop nipples.
Zacksenhaus says less is known about mammary gland development in human embryos but, at birth, both sexes have these glands and nipples.
What if the breasts remain enlarged? Embarrassingproblems.com says that in only a few men, the breasts remain enlarged at the end of the teen years.
“This is not usually because there is anything wrong with the male hormones, but because the enlarged breast tissue has remained hypersensitive to the tiny normal amounts of oestrogen, or else is not responsive to the ‘shutting down’ effect of testosterone.”
Occasionally, it says, a rare medical condition may be responsible and one would need to consult their doctor to have their hormone level checked.
“If everything is normal (which it usually is) a surgeon can remove the excess breast tissue.”
Men with breasts, it turns out, are quite common, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by Glenn Braunstein, a hormone expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, to familiarize other doctors with the condition.
“Nearly half of all men will experience it at some point in their lives, and not necessarily at the end. In fact, it’s most common during adolescence; 65% of boys have it at the age of 13 or 14. Boys that age already have enough physical changes to wrestle with as it is ÔÇö imagine taking a shower in the gym if you’ve got gynecomastia. Worse yet, imagine you’re that age, with those symptoms, fearing you’ve got some awful disease, and being too mortified to tell your parents or your doctor about it.”
Like women, however, men are susceptible to breast cancer, as well. The (American) National Cancer Institute (NCI) says men at any age may develop breast cancer, but it is usually detected (found) in men between 60 and 70 years of age.
The NCI says the following types of breast cancer are found in men:
* Infiltrating ductal carcinoma: Cancer that has spread beyond the cells lining
ducts in the breast. Most men with breast cancer have this type of cancer.
* Ductal carcinoma in situ: Abnormal cells that are found in the lining of a duct; also called intraductal carcinoma.
* Inflammatory breast cancer: A type of cancer in which the breast looks red and swollen and feels warm.
* Paget disease of the nipple: A tumor that has grown from ducts beneath the nipple onto the surface of the nipple.
Male breast cancer is sometimes caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
“The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person’s parents. Hereditary breast cancer makes up approximately 5% to 10% of all breast cancer,” says the NCI. “Some altered genes related to breast cancer are more common in certain ethnic groups. Men who have an altered gene related to breast cancer have an increased risk of developing this disease.”
The NCI says that there are different types of treatment for men with breast cancer.
“Different types of treatment are available for men with breast cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment.”
Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment is a decision that ideally involves the patient, family, and health care team.
“Surgery for men with breast cancer is usually a modified radical mastectomy (removal of the breast, many of the lymph nodes under the arm, the lining over the chest muscles, and sometimes part of the chest wall muscles).”
However, in most cases, no treatment is needed.
“Your doctor will probably want to check the size of your breast tissue every few months. In 90% of teenage boys, gynecomastia goes away in less than 3 years.
”Sometimes the problem can be solved if you stop taking a medicine that is causing gynecomastia or stop using an illegal drug that is causing the problem.”
It goes on to say that occasionally, medicines may be used to treat gynecomastia, especially if tenderness is a problem, adding that the medicine will make the extra breast tissue go away. Rarely, surgery may be necessary to remove the extra breast tissue.
”If gynecomastia is caused by a disease or a tumor, treatment is necessary . If gynecomastia is caused by a disease, the disease itself will need to be treated.”
Or, maybe, men have breasts just so they can have the breast of both worlds.