Top 5 Plastic Surgery Myths

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Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.


November 12 2008

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Myth #1: Cosmetic, reconstructive, and plastic surgery all mean the same thing.

The terms "plastic surgery," "cosmetic surgery" and "reconstructive surgery" are not interchangeable, although they're sometimes used that way.

The most widely used term – plastic surgery – was derived from the Greek word "plastikos", meaning to form or mold something. Plastic surgery has evolved to include cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, but there are distinct differences between the two.

Cosmetic surgery, also known as aesthetic plastic surgery, is elective surgery that focuses on improving physical appearances. It has been described as the surgery you want, rather than the surgery you need.

Reconstructive surgery does what its name implies: it reconstructs parts of the body with congenital or developmental abnormalities, or that have been altered by trauma, infection, or disease. It returns function as well as normal appearance.

Myth #2: Every surgeon who claims to be a plastic surgeon is a plastic surgeon.

Not necessarily. Because there are no state, national, or international laws that regulate such claims, physicians with little or no training in plastic surgery can claim to be plastic surgeons. That's why it's crucial that you do your research when it comes to choosing a plastic surgeon to perform your procedure.

Myth #3: All cosmetic and plastic surgeons are board certified.

Board certification is separate and distinct from licensing. In the United States, physicians are licensed by the state in which they practice, but they are certified by one of the 24 member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties. The member board that certifies plastic surgeons is the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).

Some plastic surgeons are certified by more than one board; for example, plastic surgeons who specialize in the head and neck are often board certified in otolaryngology. Other subspecialties that are related to plastic surgery include dermatology and ophthamology.

The American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery are also certifying bodies. Although they are not members of ABMS, they require ABMS certification of anyone seeking their certification.

Sometimes a surgeon will claim to be board certified, but doesn't specify which board. It could be a specialty totally unrelated to surgery, plastic or otherwise. Other surgeons claim to be "board eligible," which indicates they have not successfully completed a board's required written and oral exams. Be sure to inquire specifically about the professional credentials of any plastic surgeon you are considering, and ask to see the appropriate certificates for verification. Before meeting with a surgeon, you can check out whether he or she is certified by ABPS on the organization's website.

Apart from certification, membership in professional organizations like the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is considered an added plus when it comes to plastic surgeons.

Myth #4: Cosmetic or plastic surgery is meant for the rich.

Plastic surgery statistics indicate otherwise. A 2005 study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons revealed that 86% of plastic surgery patients were working women. Almost 60% of people who had recently had plastic surgery or were seriously considering it had a household income of between $30,000 and $90,000 a year; 40% of them earned $60,000 or less. Only 10% of the respondents reported a household income of more than $90,000.

With advances in surgical and anesthesia techniques, many plastic surgery procedures are less expensive than they were several years ago. Elective cosmetic surgery, however, remains a pay-as-you-go proposition, and it doesn't come cheaply. In 2007, the national average surgeon fee for abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) in the United States was $5,350. Breast augmentation with silicone implants averaged just over $4,000, and a face lift ran about $6,800. Add in fees for the surgical facility, anesthesia, medical tests, prescriptions, surgical garments, and other miscellaneous costs related to the surgery, and the total bill can escalate rather quickly. Many surgeons now accept credit cards and offer payment plans and financing, making elective cosmetic surgery accessible to more people.

On the other hand, reconstructive plastic surgery is often covered by medical insurance when specific criteria are met. Procedures like breast reduction, breast reconstruction, and upper eyelid lift can fall into this category. Check your medical insurance policy for the specifics, and get preauthorization prior to any qualifying procedure.

Myth #5: You can fix anything with cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic surgery can not "fix" everything, but it can improve your life and self-esteem under the right circumstances. There are several factors to consider before undergoing a cosmetic procedure – and plastic surgeons can and do turn down potential patients for good reason.

Your reasons for wanting surgery – and your expectations of it – will be covered in depth during your consultation with a plastic surgeon. Be honest with him or her about your motivation, and listen carefully to his or her response. An experienced plastic surgeon has developed insight into what plastic surgery can realistically do for a patient, and it's important that you both be on the same page about what can be accomplished, and at what cost to you and your wallet.