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Breast Surgery Overview

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There are three basic cosmetic breast procedures for women: breast augmentation surgery, breast lift surgery, and breast reduction surgery. The focus of all three is the enhancement of the appearance of the breast.

In 2007, breast augmentation was the top cosmetic surgical procedure for women in the United States, with almost 400,000 performed, according to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). Breast reduction ranked fifth, with more than 153,000 performed; slightly more than 126,000 women underwent a breast lift.


Breast Augmentation Surgery

During breast augmentation surgery (mammoplasty), implants containing either saline or silicone are added to augment the natural breast tissue to create a larger breast size. The breast implants are pouches made of silicone elastomer, a rubbery material, and filled with either saline (a sterile water solution whose salt content matches that of the human body) or a gel-like silicone.

The saline used in breast implants is the same concentration as the saline found naturally in the human body, so it is considered a safe substance. Some of its most common uses are intravenous infusion, rinsing contact lenses, and nasal irrigation. Silicone gel, on the other hand, has been linked in the past to a number of systemic illnesses and disease, including autoimmune disease and cancer. Removed from the U.S. market in 1992 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, silicone implants underwent 14 years of rigorous scientific review before they were reintroduced in 2006. The FDA concluded that silicone gel implants are safe for both cosmetic and reconstructive purposes, but it did note that "researchers must study a large group of women without breast implants who are of similar age, health, and social status and who are followed for a long time (such as 10 to 20 years) before a relationship between breast implants and these diseases can conclusively be made." As part of the FDAs approval, companies that produce breast implants are required to monitor breast implant patients for connective tissue disease and cancer in studies that are ongoing.

For more information on mammoplasty, go to our breast augmentation section.

Breast Lift Surgery

A mastopexy (the medical term for a breast lift) is a procedure designed to give the breasts a more youthful and upright appearance. A breast lift can reduce sag (ptosis) and raise hanging, stretched out breasts back to their correct position. During mastopexy, excess skin is removed, and the remaining skin is sutured in a way that reduces or eliminates sag.

A breast lift and breast augmentation are not the same procedure. Breast augmentation adds volume with implants and reshapes breast tissue to create the desired appearance. But breast lift and augmentation can be performed in conjunction, if you wish to increase the size of your breasts and reduce sag.

For more details on mastopexy please visit our breast lift section.

Breast Reduction Surgery

Breast reduction surgery, also called reduction mammoplasty, is a surgical procedure designed to reduce the size and weight of the breasts by removing skin and breast tissue. Unlike breast augmentation and breast lift, there is often a medical reason for performing breast reduction surgery. These include disproportionately large breasts that make it difficult for a woman to engage in everyday activities like exercise and sports, and physical symptoms like deep indentation in the shoulders from bra straps, back and neck pain, skin infections and irritations under the fold of the breast. This is why the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) classifies breast reduction surgery as a reconstructive surgery, one done to correct a physical or medical problem, rather than a cosmetic surgery that is done strictly to improve appearance. Under certain circumstances, the procedure is covered by medical insurance.

Of course, reduction mammoplasty can also be done strictly for cosmetic reasons as well. Patients who feel their breasts are out of proportion to their body or would like to be able to wear more flattering clothing sometimes opt to have their breasts reduced in size. However, breast reduction for cosmetic reasons is not covered by medical insurance.

For more in-depth information on this procedure, check out our breast reduction section.

Are you a good candidate for breast surgery?

Before considering which breast surgery is right for you, you must consider whether you are a good candidate for breast surgery. Just as you look for certain qualifications in a board-certified surgeon, surgeons look for certain qualifications in their patients, which include excellent overall physical and mental health.

Patients should be free of any active infections or other diseases or medical conditions that could make them unable to endure the surgery and recovery period. Underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, or heart disease should be under control, and patients should reveal these to their surgeon. Patients who smoke should also be upfront about this with their surgeon as smoking can have detrimental effects both during and after surgery.

The healing process from breast surgery can be difficult and tedious and it requires a great deal of patience. Postsurgical depression is common, so patients should be mentally prepared when deciding to have breast procedure. If a patient already suffers from depression or other mental illness, it may be wise for her to delay or opt against surgery.

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