Breast tenderness in men is usually caused by gynecomastia —  male breast growth caused by hormonal imbalances. Male breast pain is very rarely a sign of cancer.

Breast tenderness most commonly affects women but it can also affect men. Though male breast tenderness is not generally a cause for concern, it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying condition that needs medical attention.

What Causes Male Breast Growth?

Roshni Rao, MD, chief of the Breast Surgery Program the Columbia University Medical, spoke with LIVESTRONG.com about the possible causes of breast tenderness in men 5. "Usually, [tenderness] is caused by gynecomastia," says Dr. Rao.

Gynecomastia is caused by a hormonal imbalance in males, resulting in an enlargement of male breast tissue, according to the Cleveland Clinic 127. The most common symptoms are breast swelling and breast tenderness.

Both males and females have some amounts of the hormones estrogen and testosterone, per the Cleveland Clinic 3. Estrogen controls female characteristics such as breast growth while testosterone controls male characteristic like body hair and muscle mass 3. Understandably, females have more estrogen while males have more testosterone 3. However, a number of things can cause an imbalance of these hormones in men, leading to male breast growth.

Age

When boys go through puberty, their hormone levels can be thrown out of balance, according to the Mayo Clinic 2. Greater levels of estrogen or lower levels of testosterone can cause gynecomastia 3. In most cases, breast swelling goes away without treatment after six months to two years.

Testosterone levels also tend to drop as men age, according to the UCSF Health 3. This can cause swollen breasts and tenderness, generally between ages 50-70.

Note that newborns can also experience gynecomastia due to the lingering effects of their mother's estrogen.

Inadequate Nutrition

When men gain weight, fat deposits can accumulate in the breast tissue, causing breast growth, according to Harvard Medical School 45. But, the Cleveland Clinic notes this is not actually gynecomastia as it is not caused by a hormonal imbalance 1.

However, gynecomastia can be caused by malnutrition. This may seem surprising: Why would having too few calories cause male breasts to grow? The answer is that when males don't get enough nutrition, testosterone levels drop but estrogen levels stay the same, per the Mayo Clinic 3. As described, higher levels of estrogen can cause male breast growth.

Read more: 10 Essential Foods for Men

Medical Conditions

Gynecomastia can be a side effect of a number of medical conditions which affect testosterone levels, per the Mayo Clinic 23.

Medications and Other Substances

Gynecomastia can also be caused by certain medications, per the Cleveland Clinic 1. These include antibiotics, certain mental health medications and medications which treat prostate conditions.

Additionally, alcohol, marijuana, anabolic steroids (sometimes used by bodybuilders) and illicit drugs such as heroin can all cause male breast growth.

Read more: Does Weight Lifting Increase Testosterone Levels in Men?

Jogger's Nipple Can Lead to Male Breast Tenderness

There are a few causes of male breast tenderness which are unrelated to hormonal changes. It may surprise you to learn that one of these may be your shirt.

Jogger's nipple (also called marathoner's nipple) happens when the front of a runner's shirt rubs up and down against the chest during prolonged exercise, according to Harvard Medical School 5. The movement of the shirt against the skin can cause irritation, redness or even bleeding of the nipple, especially in hot or humid weather. To prevent this, Harvard Medical School recommends applying petroleum jelly or Band-Aides to the nipples before going out for a run 5.

Read more: Will Push-Ups Get Rid of Man Boobs?

A Rare Type of Breast Cancer Can Also Cause Tenderness

A very aggressive but also very rare type of cancer called inflammatory breast cancer can cause breast tenderness, swelling, burning or heaviness, according to the National Cancer Institute 6. But as mentioned, breast cancer rarely causes pain. The most common symptoms include painless breast lumps, changes to the skin of the breast (such as:

  • dimpling
  • redness or flakiness)
  • nipple discharge
  • an inverted nipple (nipple turns inward)
  • according to the Mayo Clinic 7
The Wrap Up

But, the Cleveland Clinic notes this is not actually gynecomastia as it is not caused by a hormonal imbalance 1. Medications and Other Substances Gynecomastia can also be caused by certain medications, per the Cleveland Clinic 1. Greater levels of estrogen or lower levels of testosterone can cause gynecomastia 3.

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