Boys in line for breast reduction
Boys as young as eight are seeing plastic surgeons about breast reduction surgery.
The surgery is becoming more common as acceptance and awareness increases, particularly among middle-aged men who need to look good in the competitive corporate job market, Wellington surgeon John Masters says.
"I've seen boys as young as eight and men as old as 83, and the vast majority of people fall into one or two categories."
He said 75 per cent of boys would develop enlarged breasts during puberty because of their hormones, and in most cases they grew out of it.
But for the small amount who did not, they could be left with A to C cup breasts, causing them low self-esteem and body image problems.
The other group consisted of men in their 30s and 40s suffering from middle-aged spread because of a more sedentary lifestyle.
"They've lost a bit of muscle mass and are aware of the looseness in the chest or the fullness in their chest that can be seen under their clothes," Masters said.
His clinic, Plastic Surgical Masters, sees about one new male patient a fortnight wanting a breast reduction.
"The group I'm seeing more of is the guys living sedentary lifestyles, [who are] in middle-management, they have got a reasonable income, jobs are competitive - they want to look their best, they don't want to be perceived as a couch potato."
Christchurch plastic surgeon Howard Klein confirmed an increase in cases, saying he operated on about 20 men last year - double the number he was performing five years ago.
"Last [month] I saw a muscular young man, but he looked like he was developing breasts. He could only wear specific clothes - all the same issues that flat-chested women or women with very large breasts have.
"It can be very damaging psychologically for a man to have small female-type breasts."
Operations - called gynaecomastia surgery - involve the removal of fatty and glandular tissue. They can either be done under local or general anaesthetic, and cost $4000 for a straightforward procedure to more than $15,000 for complicated cases.
On rare occasions, Masters said, he saw men who had enlarged breasts due to recreational drug use - such as chronic marijuana smokers, and steroid-popping bodybuilders.
Some of his patients wore women's sports bras to flatten their chests, while most simply wore a couple of layers of clothing. "They never take their shirts off at the beach or go to swimming pools. I saw a Wellington rugby rep player a couple of years ago who had never changed in front of his teammates for years."
A Ministry of Health spokesman said a small number of publicly-funded male breast reductions were done each year for clinical reasons. Eight male procedures were carried out in 2010-11, compared with 202 on women. Nine male procedures were done in 2009-10.
John de Waal, president of the New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons, said it was important for surgeons to establish the difference between young boys feeling insecure about extra breast tissue, and cases that could pose health risks.
"Some boys are very shy about it and don't even mention it to their parents, others think they have a serious disease.
"It can be thought of cosmetic, but in reality be of medical concern. Equally it can be thought of as medical, but really be cosmetic."