Busting myths about ‘moobs’

Most of us will have heard of the term ‘moobs’, or ‘man boobs’, to describe when boys’ or men’s breasts become larger than normal. But did you know that it affects a large percentage of the male population?

“Yes, boys and men have breasts too,” says Sarah Grantham, the cosmetics sister here at St Hugh’s Hospital. “Although they don’t develop in the same way as in females (this is due to an increase in the male hormone testosterone during puberty, rather than the female hormone oestrogen), all boys are born with a small amount of breast tissue.

“And it’s common for boys’ or men’s breast tissue to become enlarged, resulting in them appearing more like female breasts. The medical term for this is gynaecomastia, but you may have heard of it referred to as man boobs, or moobs for short.

“It actually affects more people than you might realise – 35 per cent of the male population, according to experts – so it’s worth talking about and highlighting.”

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) summarises gynaecomastia as the increase of non-cancerous (benign) male glandular breast tissue. It can occur on one or both sides, and can be painful – or not painful at all. It happens because of an excess of oestrogen in the body or a deficiency of testosterone, resulting in a high oestrogen-to-testosterone ratio, and can occur in newborns, during puberty, and with ageing and obesity. We all have male and female hormones in our bodies.

The BMJ also says that many drugs, as well as environmental exposures, illnesses, and some genetic conditions increase the risk for gynaecomastia. Most cases require no specific treatment, but therapies include anti-oestrogen therapy, androgen replacement if proven testosterone deficiency, or surgery (liposuction or a mammoplasty).

Sarah says: “This condition can cause pain, and embarrassment too, meaning it can have an impact on the person experiencing it, not only physically but psychologically. Men are increasingly turning to the aesthetics sector to improve their confidence and enhance their appearance, and so liposuction or a mammoplasty are possible options for someone experiencing it, provided surgery is right for them.

“Gynaecomastia can present very differently in different people. Sometimes it is only mild and not a bother at all, but other people can experience a notable and obvious enlargement, and sagging skin. This can affect one side, or sometimes both – and then unevenly.”

So, it’s time for a quick history lesson. The word gynaecomastia is Greek in origin, meaning ‘female breast’, and is used medically to refer to the obvious development of breast tissue in males. The strict meaning of the word refers only to the glandular component of the breast, but many males with the condition also have an increase in fatty tissue as well as glandular.

“If you have gynaecomastia and are investigating what surgical options are open to you, there are things to consider,” says Sarah. “The condition of your skin is one – good elasticity is vital for the best results; the skin will shrink more easily around the pectoral muscles and ultimately provide better contours.

“There are techniques for if your skin isn’t as elastic and is droopy – maybe you’ve gained and lost weight – but this could increase scarring.

“There’s recovery to consider, too. This depends entirely on you, and varies from patient to patient, depending on a variety of factors, like skin condition and lifestyle, and how much you can rest following surgery.

“All of this and much more is discussed with you way before any date is made for the actual procedure. We make sure you – and we – are happy with every aspect of your care. As always, if you are thinking about this kind of surgery, we are only a phone call away.” 

Find out more about what St Hugh’s Hospital can offer you at hmtsthughs.org/treatments or by phoning 01472 251100.