Breast augmentation, technically known as augmentation mammoplasty, is a surgical procedure to enhance the size and shape of a woman’s breasts for a number of reasons:
- To enhance the body contour of a woman who, for personal reasons, feels her breast size is too small.
- To restore breast volume lost due to weight loss or following pregnancy
- To achieve better symmetry when breasts are moderately disproportionate in size and shape
- To improve the shape of breasts that are sagging or have lost firmness, often used with a breast lift procedure
- To provide the foundation of a breast contour when a breast has been removed or disfigured by surgery to treat breast cancer
By inserting an implant behind each breast, surgeons are able to increase a woman’s bust line by one or more bra cup sizes. If you’re considering breast augmentation, this will give you a basic understanding of the procedure–when it can help, how it’s performed, and what results you can expect. It can’t answer all of your questions, since a lot depends on your individual circumstances. Please ask your surgeon if there is anything you don’t understand about the procedure.
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Breast augmentation can enhance your appearance and your self-confidence, but it won’t necessarily change your looks to match your ideal, or cause other people to treat you differently. Before you decide to have surgery, think carefully about your expectations and discuss them with your surgeon.
The best candidates for breast augmentation are women who are looking for improvement, not perfection, in the way they look. If you’re physically healthy and realistic in your expectations, you may be a good candidate.
The choice of implant filler, implant size, shape and other features will be determined based on your breast anatomy, body type and your desired increase in size. Your lifestyle, goals and personal preferences, as well your plastic surgeon’s recommendations and sound surgical judgment are also determining factors. Implant manufacturers occasionally introduce new styles and types of implants, and therefore there may be additional options available to you.
Breast implants are medical devices with a solid silicone, rubber shell. The implant shell may be filled with either saline solution (sterile salt water) or elastic silicone gel. Both saline and silicone gel breast implants are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Approval means that an implant has been rigorously researched and tested, and reviewed by an independent panel of physicians for safety.
The size of a breast implant is measured in cubic centimeters (ccs) based on the volume of the saline or silicone filler. Breast implants vary both by filler and in size, but there are additional features to consider:
- Texture: the implant shell may be smooth or textured
- Shape: the implant may have a round profile or one that is anatomic (teardrop or tapered shape)
- Profile: the implant may have a low, medium or high projection (the depth of the implant from the base to the highest point of the implant curve)
- Diameter: the width of the implant measured across it’s base (the side of the implant that will be positioned over the chest wall)
Adult women of any age can benefit greatly from the enhancement breast implants provide. It is usually recommended, however, that a woman’s breasts are fully developed prior to placement of breast implants. Saline implants are FDA approved for augmentation in women 18 years of age and older. Silicone implants are FDA approved for augmentation in women age 22 and older. Saline or silicone implants may be recommended at a younger age if used for reconstruction purposes.
You should be aware that breast implants are not guaranteed to last a lifetime and future surgery may be required to replace one or both implants. Regular examinations for breast health and to evaluate the condition of your implants are important whether you have chosen saline or silicone breast implants.
Breast augmentation is relatively straightforward. But as with any operation, there are risks associated with surgery and specific complications associated with this procedure.
The most common problem, capsular contracture, occurs if the scar or capsule around the implant begins to tighten. This squeezing of the soft implant can cause the breast to feel hard. Capsular contracture can be treated in several ways, and sometimes requires either removal or “scoring” of the scar tissue, or perhaps removal or replacement of the implant.
As with any surgical procedure, excessive bleeding following the operation may cause some swelling and pain. If excessive bleeding continues, another operation may be needed to control the bleeding and remove the accumulated blood.
A small percentage of women develop an infection around an implant. This may occur at any time, but is most often seen within a week after surgery. In some cases, the implant may need to be removed for several months until the infection clears. A new implant can then be inserted.
Some women report that their nipples become oversensitive, under sensitive, or even numb. You may also notice small patches of numbness near your incisions. These symptoms usually disappear within time, but may be permanent in some patients.
Breast implants do not generally interfere with a woman’s ability to breast feed, or present a health hazard during pregnancy to a woman or her baby. However, pregnancy and the associated changes to a woman’s body may alter the results of any breast surgery, including surgery to place breast implants. Therefore, it is important to discuss the options of breast implant surgery with your plastic surgeon if you are interested in becoming pregnant and breast feeding in the future.
Occasionally, breast implants may break or leak. Rupture can occur as a result of injury or even from the normal compression and movement of your breast and implant, causing the man-made shell to leak.
- If a saline-filled implant breaks, the implant will deflate in a few hours and the salt water will be absorbed and naturally expelled by the body.
- If a silicone-gel filled implant leak or break, the elastic silicone gel may remain within the implant shell, or may escape into the breast implant pocket (a capsule of tissue that surrounds the implant). A leaking implant filled with silicone gel may not deflate and may not be noticeable except through imaging techniques such as an MRI. For this reason, a woman with silicone breast implants is advised to visit her plastic surgeon annually to assess that her implants are functioning well. An ultrasound exam or MRI screening can assess the condition of breast implants; after 3 years it is recommended that all silicone implants be properly screened.
Following the placement of breast implants mammography is technically more difficult. Obtaining the best possible results requires specialized techniques and additional views. You must be candid about your implants when undergoing any diagnostic breast exam. In many cases, an ultrasound exam or MRI may be recommended in addition to mammography.
While the majority of women do not experience these complications, you should discuss each of them with your physician to make sure you understand the risks and consequences of breast augmentation.
In your initial consultation, your surgeon will evaluate your health and explain which surgical techniques are most appropriate for you, based on the condition of your breasts and skin tone. If your breasts are sagging, your doctor may also recommend a breast lift.
Be sure to discuss your expectations frankly with your surgeon. He or she should be equally frank with you, describing your alternatives and the risks and limitations of each. You may want to ask your surgeon for a copy of the manufacturer’s insert that comes with the implant he or she will use — just so you are fully informed about it. And, be sure to tell your surgeon if you smoke, and if you’re taking any medications, vitamins, or other drugs.
Your surgeon should also explain the type of anesthesia to be used, the type of facility where the surgery will be performed, and the costs involved. Because most insurance companies do not consider breast augmentation to be medically necessary, carriers generally do not cover the cost of this procedure.
Your surgeon will give you instructions to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking, smoking, and taking or avoiding certain vitamins and medications. A mammogram may be recommended prior to your procedure to ensure breast health and serve as a baseline for future comparison.
In addition to explaining your surgical procedure, you plastic surgeon will discuss anesthesia, the recovery process and your obligations as a patient. You will also discuss where your procedure will be performed. You will be asked to sign consent forms to ensure that you fully understand the procedure you will undergo and any risks and potential complications of your surgery. There may be a waiting period of several days to weeks from the time of your consent to the day of surgery.
While making preparations, be sure to arrange for someone to drive you home after your surgery and to help you out for a few days, if needed.
Your surgeon may prefer to perform the operation in an office facility, a freestanding surgery center, or a hospital outpatient facility. Occasionally, the surgery may be done as an inpatient in a hospital, in which case you can plan on staying for a day or two.
Breast augmentation can be performed with a general anesthesia, so you’ll sleep through the entire operation. Some surgeons may use a local anesthesia, combined with a sedative to make you drowsy, so you’ll be relaxed but awake, and may feel some discomfort.
The method of inserting and positioning your implant will depend on your anatomy and your surgeon’s recommendation. The incision can be made either in the crease where the breast meets the chest, around the areola (the dark skin surrounding the nipple), or in the armpit. In addition, a saline implant may be placed through an incision at the navel. Every effort will be made to assure that the incision is placed so resulting scars will be as inconspicuous as possible.
Working through the incision, the surgeon will lift your breast tissue and skin to create a pocket, either directly behind the breast tissue (submammary or subglandular placement) or may be placed beneath the pectoral muscle and on top of the chest wall (submuscular placement). Once the implant is positioned within this pocket, the incisions are closed with sutures, skin adhesive and/or surgical tape. A gauze bandage may be applied over your breasts to help with healing. The surgery usually takes one to two hours to complete. You’ll want to discuss the pros and cons of these alternatives with your doctor before surgery to make sure you fully understand the implications of the procedure he or she recommends for you.
You’re likely to feel tired and sore for a few days following your surgery, but you’ll be up and around in 24 to 48 hours. Most of your discomfort can be controlled by medication prescribed by your doctor.
Within several days, the gauze dressings, if you have them, will be removed, and you may be given a surgical bra. You should wear it as directed by your surgeon. You may also experience a burning sensation in your nipples for about two weeks, but this will subside as bruising fades.
Your stitches will come out in a week to 10 days, but the swelling in your breasts may take three to five weeks to disappear.
You should be able to return to work within a few days, depending on the level of activity required for your job.
Follow your surgeon’s advice on when to begin exercises and normal activities. Your breasts will probably be sensitive to direct stimulation for two to three weeks, so you should avoid much physical contact. After that, breast contact is fine once your breasts are no longer sore, usually three to four weeks after surgery.
Your scars will be firm and pink for at least six weeks. Then they may remain the same size for several months, or even appear to widen. After several months, your scars will begin to fade, although they will never disappear completely.
Routine mammograms should be continued after breast augmentation for women who are in the appropriate age group, although the mammography technician should use a special technique to assure that you get a reliable reading, as discussed earlier.
For many women, the result of breast augmentation can be satisfying, even exhilarating, as they learn to appreciate their fuller appearance.
Even if you believe your implants are functioning well, it is important that you follow-up as directed with your plastic surgeon to assess the condition of your breast implants. In addition, whether you choose to have breast implants or not, it is essential to your health that you practice a monthly breast self-exam and schedule regular diagnostic breast screenings.
Your decision to have breast augmentation is a highly personal one that not everyone will understand. The important thing is how you feel about it. If you’ve met your goals, then your surgery is a success.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2010 our decision was to have a mastectomy. My surgeon referred me to Dr. Jon Bishop. I was a little nervous, but my very first visit I knew I had made the right choice to have Dr. Bishop as my plastic surgeon. Immediately I felt at ease. My reconstruction surgery has went very well. My husband and I view Dr. Bishop and his staff not only as a wonderful team, but also wonderful and compassionate people. We now consider them all as good friends fighting for the same cause.”