Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The male breast

Advice - Mind, Body and Family, Oct '13
By Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta

Breast /brest/ noun: Either of the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of a woman’s body which secrete milk after childbirth.

As I was looking for the definition of ‘breast’ in some non-medical dictionary, the most popular dictionaries yielded something close to the one above. Evidently, the popular view of breasts is that of a female organ meant to secrete milk after childbirth.

The definition instantly triggered a few questions in my mind: Is the breast really (exclusively) a ‘female’ organ? And the male counterpart has to be called ‘chest’?

Does the sole purpose that the breasts serve in a female in an average lifespan of 60-70 years (with let’s say, two pregnancies) is to feed the children for (six into two) 12 months? What then, about the remaining 59-69 years, when the breasts develop, grow and age gracefully?

Why are we so much in denial about the sexual role played by breasts when we define them? And I include the sexual role played in males as well.

The definitions speak more about the dictionaries than about breasts, I suppose.

The male breast is one of the rarely touched topics in popular medical textbooks and erotica alike. Medical descriptions of the male breast start with the embarrassment of some men having large boobs (gynaecomastia) and ends at how rare but more dangerous male breast cancer can be – assumedly because the male breast neither secretes milk nor titillates the pudendal nerves (nerves that supply the genitalia) of the straight male majority. Some biology books authoritatively place the male breast in the list of vestigial (useless) organs.

Microscopic views of female breasts: Top - milk glands;
centre - breast tissues; above - nipple fissures. Male breasts
don't look very different under the microscope.
Photo credits: Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta 

Like the female breasts, the male pairs come in different forms and sub-forms – the tiny ones, the hairy ones, the defined ones, the smooth ones, the ones with darker nipples, the ones whose nipples are more than one-third of the areolar diameter, the ones whose nipples are less than one-third of the areolar diameter, the pierced ones, the compassionate ones, the bold ones, the egoist ones and the rest of the many more!

I find the male breasts to be one of the many graceful creations of nature. They remind us that the sole purpose of creation in nature (if any) is beyond the bounds of a birth-growth-reproduction life-cycle that biological theorists love to paint. Why else would the apparently vestigial organs be so richly supplied with nerve endings that they would cause sexual arousal in most men (irrespective of sexual orientation), erections in many, stimulate the release of oxytocin hormones (that help in bonding between two individuals) and serve as little tools of pleasure too?

Each time I think of my breasts, I know there is more than one reason why they are there, just as there are reasons beyond our twisted logic about why each seemingly vestigial component of the nature exists in its own right!

Reader queries

I'm a 30-year-old trans woman. I don't wish to change my biological sex through surgery but I wish I had larger and more defined breasts. Is there any way to increase the size of the breasts through surgery?
Anonymous, Bardhaman

Dear Anonymous

There are many medicines that are used to increase the size of breasts. Some of them are female hormonal pills or injections, whereas some others are not exactly hormonal pills but have breast enhancing effects. Like all medicines, these drugs come with some warnings and precautions. They should not be used without consulting a doctor. But when used under the supervision of a medical professional, they usually give you the desired effects.

I'm a 27-year-old woman. For the last three weeks I can feel a hard lump in the upper part of my right breast. Is it something to be worried about?
Anonymous, Kolkata

Dear Anonymous

I think it should be taken seriously. Breast lumps are often associated with inflammatory and tumour-related diseases. A majority of the breast lumps are not tumours and a majority of the tumours are not malignant (cancerous). But the danger associated with breast cancer cannot be ignored. With advanced imaging and cytology techniques in most hospitals, breast diseases can be diagnosed and treated early and successfully. An early diagnosis is helped by ‘self-examination of breasts’ that you can learn from your health-care provider. I would suggest you to visit a general surgeon without delay.

Confused? Disturbed? Just inquisitive? Write in any query on the mind, body and family to vartablog@gmail.com, and Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta, teaching faculty at a Kolkata-based medical college, will be happy to answer them – with due respect to confidentiality.


  1. I have larger breasts than most men do. Does this have anything to do with sexual orientation ?

  2. Dr Tirthankar GuhathakurtaOctober 02, 2013 10:25 pm

    Dear Rajib C,
    There is no proven link between one's sexual orientation and size of breast. A larger than usual breast in men can either be a normal variation, a "pseudo-gynaecomastia" or apparently large breasts due to obesity, and true gynaecomastia or over-grown breast tissue (not fat tissue) due to some drugs or medical conditions.
    If you are concerned, you can visit a doctor for a check up and s/he will be able to clarify your doubts.