Feb. 22, 2008 -- Every year almost 14,000 men go under the knife to correct a condition known as gynecomastia: unwanted breast tissue commonly referred to as "man breasts."
"It is much more common than you could imagine. Probably 40 to 50 percent of all men have some degree of gynecomastia," said Dr. Elliot Jacobs, a plastic surgeon in New York.
The majority of corrective surgeries are done on males between the ages of 13 and 19.
"There is a surge of hormones in puberty and we believe there is an imbalance of those hormones" that causes it, Jacobs said.
Jacobs said that the social and emotional stigma associated with the condition hinders adolescent boys at a critical time, sometimes even driving them to desperation and depression.
"These are children who are going through such changes that they are afraid to tell their parents, and oftentimes they'll just suffer in silence. … I've seen some boys bind themselves every day with Ace bandages to hide it and to compress it," Jacobs said.
One Teen's Struggle
At 16 years old, Scott Matroo had lived with gynecomastia for six years. Recently, he decided to undergo surgery to remove the unwanted tissue on his chest.
"I decided to have the surgery because it's tough living with it. It puts me down sometimes, you know, well, a lot of the time," he said.
"If I had the same condition, I know that I'd want to have the surgery. … I know that he wants to get it done and he'll do anything for it," said Matroo's friend, Spenser Siwik.
"I just don't feel normal with it. I can't be like a lot of the other guys in my school. I can't really take off my shirt off when we're supposed to change for gym. …What I do is I put my gym shirt underneath, what I'm gonna wear for school. That way I just take off my shirt on top," Matroo said.
Some pediatricians believe that opting for surgery is a rash decision.
"If you go to the average pediatrician, they'll pat them on the shoulder and say, wait it out, it will go away, and it doesn't," said Jacobs.
Matroo agreed. "Waiting it out definitely didn't work because it just got worse," he said.
Doctors said no amount of exercise, no amount of dieting, can alleviate the problem.
"Looking at him every day, you know, he's depressed about it a lot. You would see the sadness on his face. … So I, we just decided, you know what, we can't let him go through this," said his mother, Sadnai Persaud.
Day of Surgery
Matroo's gynecomastia operation will last 90 minutes and be performed under general anesthetic, using liposuction tools. For Jacobs, it will be the first of three such procedures that day.
After first injecting a softening liquid into the breast, Jacobs can then gradually whittle away at his excess fat and breast tissue.
"On occasion, I encounter extremely hard, dense breast tissue, which then will necessitate a separate, small incision just around the very edge of the nipple and that's it," said . Jacobs.
"What's remarkable about the skin is once the tissue is removed, the skin literally tightens in front of our eyes on the operating table. … It's like letting air out of a balloon."
Immediately after the surgery, Jacobs was already happy with the results.
"He's got a nice flat, masculine chest, and I think he's going to be a happy camper," Jacobs said in the recovery room, as Matroo nodded in approval.
Though full recovery can take anywhere from four to six weeks, Matroo said after one week he already saw, and felt, a dramatic change.
"It feels good to let other people know that this is something they can do to get rid of it because a lot of people don't know about it. … I'm pretty excited. I've been waiting for a long time," Matroo said.