Male breast enlargement common in older ages
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a healthy, 67-year-old man who has developed embarrassingly large breasts this past year. Why? They aren’t painful. I will not go swimming or do anything that requires taking off my shirt. I’m about 20 pounds overweight. — C.C.
ANSWER: That’s called gynecomastia (GUY-nuh-coe-MASS-tee-uh), and it frequently happens during three age periods. In infancy, some male children have visible breasts due to the estrogen that was transferred to them from their mother during fetal development. At puberty, almost all boys have a degree of breast enlargement, and some have quite conspicuous enlargement. It comes from an imbalance of male and female hormone production at this stage in life. Usually the imbalance and enlargement are transient. In older men, for a similar reason (hormone imbalance), breasts begin to grow. Male hormone production wanes without a concomitant drop in female hormone production. (It’s a revelation to men and women that men produce female hormones and women, male hormones.)
Male breast growth requires distinguishing between fat and breast tissue. Sometimes fat deposition is mistaken for gynecomastia. Fat tissue is soft and squishy. Breast tissue is firmer. If you can’t tell the difference, your doctor can help you out. Weight loss is the solution for fat deposition, and getting rid of your extra 20 pounds will help.
Medicines are sometimes the cause of breast enlargement. The list is long and includes some common medicines, like the medicines used to shrink the prostate gland, those that slow the production of stomach acid and two often-prescribed blood pressure and heart medicines — ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers. Excessive alcohol enlarges breasts, as does marijuana use.
An overactive thyroid gland can stimulate breast growth. Liver and kidney diseases can be responsible for it. If your testosterone production is on the low side, replacement of that hormone is helpful. Raloxifene blocks the effects of estrogen and is another treatment. Surgical removal of the tissue is a definite cure and is not surgery that has a long recovery period.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Do moles become cancer? I have a number of them, and I wonder if I face the prospects of cancer. How can you tell a mole from a cancer? — R.S.
ANSWER: Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is the skin cancer that has to be ruled out when evaluating any dark patch of skin. Moles are not cancer, and they rarely become cancer. All the same, pigmented areas of skin deserve respect and should prompt a doctor’s examination if a person is unsure about their nature.
Melanomas are larger than a pencil eraser, have irregular borders, often have strands of reds, blues and tans infiltrating the dark patch and are asymmetric. Asymmetry means if you fold the patch in half (in your imagination), the two halves don’t match.
Any black skin spot that enlarges, changes shape or bleeds should bring you to your doctor.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Now I can add licorice to the foods that are dangerous to eat. I hear it causes high blood pressure. Well, I’ve been eating it all my life, and my blood pressure is just fine. Is this just another piece of scare news that people love to spread? — H.J.
ANSWER: Licorice made from the root of the licorice plant contains a substance called glycyrrhiza (glis-uh-RISE-uh) which, when eaten in large amounts, can raise blood pressure and lower blood potassium.
Most licorice produced locally does not contain glycyrrhiza and has no effect on blood pressure or potassium. Look for the glycyrrhiza compound on the label. Or look for a listing that says “derived from licorice extract.” You’re not going to run into it often, if ever. Even if you do, you have to eat large quantities to elevate blood pressure.
Red licorice doesn’t contain this material.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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