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Have you noticed breast growth, nipple discharge, skin changes around the nipple and areola, or a lump under one or both "breasts"? 

Breast cancer awareness campaigns have made quite an impact — and if you were a woman, you would almost certainly be seeking medical attention right away upon encountering breast changes. Men can be affected by all the breast abnormalities that strike women, as well as by one that specifically occurs in men. 

Should you notice any kind of breast abnormality, you are more than justified in making an appointment with your primary care provider right away. Before you do, however, you will want to know that most breast changes in men are benign (non-cancerous). 

Here is an overview of conditions of the male breast. 

Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia, the most common condition of the male breast, is the enlargement of one or both male breasts under the influence of hormones, concretely a spike in estrogen and a decrease in testosterone. Gynecomastia can occur as the side effect of a medication or street drug, as the secondary effect of another medical condition, due to a tumor, or because of malnutrition or aging.

While its main symptom is the "swelling" of the breast(s), gynecomastia can also lead to tenderness and discomfort, as well as sometimes discharge from the nipples.

Male Breast Cancer

While breast cancer is much more common in women, men can get it too. Timely diagnosis and treatment greatly improves the prognosis, so any man who spots the symptoms of possible breast cancer should immediately get checked out:

  • A painless lump around your breast tissue.
  • Discharge from the nipple.
  • Skin changes of or around the nipple — an inverted nipple, dry or scaly skin, or an "orange peel" skin. 

Paget's Disease Of The Breast

Paget's disease is a rare form of breast cancer that starts at the nipple and progresses to the areola. Men who have Paget's disease of the breast may notice some of the same symptoms associated with other forms of breast cancer.

In addition, they may notice skin changes that resemble eczema around the nipple and areola, along with itching or burning, thicker skin in the breast area, and bloody or caramel-colored nipple discharge

Benign Growths Of The Male Breast

Benign growths of the male breast include:

  • Angiolipoma: A benign tumor made up of fatty tissues and vessels. These growths mostly affect young people, and may present as multiple small growths that can be painful. 
  • Schwannoma: A benign tumor of the nerve sheath that you will be able to feel as a lump and that may or may not be painful. 
  • Intraductal papilloma: A benign growth of the milk duct that presents as a lump near the nipple. (Yes, men can get them too!)
  • Lipoma: A fatty growth that develops gradually. 

Other Causes Of Breast Abnormalities In Men

Sebaceous cysts, harmless but unpleasant cysts just under the skin, can occur in the chest area as well. If it such a cyst is present close enough to the nipple, you may mistake the fluid that drains from it for nipple discharge. 

You could also have a subareolar abscess, an infection under the skin of the areola. 

Diabetic mastopathy presents as a hard and painless mass of the breast, and is a rare complication of diabetes. 

Even something as simple as a hematoma can cause a breast "lump" and pain — but lesions around the nipple can also be the result of secondary syphillis. 

What Do I Do Now?

See your doctor. While chances are that your breast changes are caused by something that isn't life-threatening and even something that does not require medical treatment at all, you can't be sure unless you get checked out. Your doctor may suggest an ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI scan, and will a biopsy will be carried out where necessary.

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