Understanding Causes of Male Breast Pain and Swelling

A Look into Gynecomastia, Breast Cancer, and Other Causes

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Men might not like to think of themselves as having breasts, but a look at any men's swimsuit catalog will prove that there are male breasts. Anyone with breast tissue—male and female—is at risk for breast cancer, but it's quite rare in men.

Let's take a closer look at some potential causes of breast pain and/or swelling in males, including cancer.

Male Breast Development

Before puberty begins and hormone levels shift and rise, female and male breasts look very much alike.

Children's breasts in both genders are primarily skin, fat, and connective tissue supporting a nipple and areola. In our early teen years, the gender-specific hormones begin to transform our bodies for adulthood. In men, testosterone encourages testicular growth and usually prevents breast development. In women, estrogen signals developing milk-producing glands and increases breast size. Pregnancy completes female breast development.

Normal Causes of Male Breast Swelling

Some young men will experience breast growth during adolescence. This is a normal process caused by hormonal changes and can produce breast swelling and tenderness, but probably won't cause breast pain. This growth in breast tissue—known by the medical term gynecomastia—may also occur in men older than 50.

Secondary Causes of Male Breast Swelling

Gynecomastia or male breast growth or swelling may cause breast pain in some people.

In addition to being a normal process, it can also be due to:

  • certain medications or substance abuse, especially alcohol
  • liver disease
  • diseases of or involvement of the testes (i.e., testicular torsion or trauma, hemochromatosis, Klinefelter syndrome)
  • rarely, tumors, HIV, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism

    Common Causes For Male Breast Pain

    Most causes of male breast pain are relatively benign. A few things that may cause male breast pain include:

    • Breast injury - from sports or work-related activities
    • Runner's nipple - irritated or bloody nipples caused during jogging
    • Mastitis - an infection of breast tissue
    • Breast cyst - a fluid-filled sac that may press on surrounding tissue
    • Fibroadenoma - rare in men, a benign breast tumor composed of glandular and fibrous breast tissue

    Help With Male Breast Pain

    If you have breast pain, start by examining the painful area and try to determine what is causing the pain. If you have a bruise or runner's nipple, try hot or cold packs, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin.

    Mastitis, a cyst, or a fibroadenoma will all require a doctor's examination and prescription drugs or surgical intervention. You should always see a doctor if you discover a breast lump.

    Male Breast Cancer

    Most men who are diagnosed with breast cancer usually do not feel breast pain, but this is not a hard and fast rule. For men with a family history of breast cancer, doing a male breast self-exam is an easy way to be aware of any changes in your breast. Changes to watch out for include:

    • A  lump or swelling  

    Men who carry the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for men as well, as women, to know their family health history so they can be proactive about screening and living a healthy lifestyle.

    Male Breast Pain From Other Sources

    Sometimes you may feel that you have breast pain, but the source is really in your chest wall muscles, ribs, or spine. Be sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack, so you don't brush it off as "just breast pain."

    Final Thought

    Doing your male breast exam is a good way to recognize changes in your breast tissue so you can be proactive in the case of any male breast pain — and of course, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and physical examination.


    American Cancer Society. (2015). Breast Cancer in Men: Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer in Men. 

    Breast Pain. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Institutes of Health.

    Dckson G. Gynecomastia. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Apr 1;85(7):716-722.   

    Mammary duct ectasia and periductal mastitis in males. Jamal K. Al-Masad, MD, FRCS. Saudi Med J 2001; Vol. 22 (11): 1030-1033.

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