During surgery to enlarge the breasts (augmentation mammoplasty), an implant is placed under the breast tissue or under the chest muscle beneath the breast. An implant is a soft silicone shell filled with silicone gel or a saline (saltwater) solution.
To position the implant, an incision is made in the bottom crease of the breast, the armpit, or along the lower edge of the areola (the colored area surrounding the nipple). The implant is inserted through the incision and may be placed under either the breast tissue or the chest muscle beneath the breast. Some doctors believe that putting the implant beneath the chest muscle lowers the risk for a condition called capsular contracture (hardening of tissue surrounding the implant) and interferes less with mammography than when the implant is under the breast tissue but in front of the muscle. After the implant has been carefully adjusted to the correct shape and position, the incision is closed with stitches.
A breast lift (mastopexy) may be done at the same time as the breast enlargement. A breast lift can raise sagging or drooping breasts and elevate the nipple and areola. To lift the breasts, excess skin from the bottom of the breast and the area around the areola is removed. The remaining skin is then brought together, which tightens and raises the breast. A breast lift requires larger incisions than a breast enlargement alone. Incisions may extend from the areola down to the crease where the bottom of the breast meets the chest.
Breast enlargements and lifts are usually done as outpatient procedures in a hospital or outpatient surgery center. An overnight stay in the hospital is not needed unless there are complications during surgery. General anesthesia is typically used, although local anesthesia or an epidural may be used.
Immediately after the surgery, gauze is taped over the stitched incisions, and the breasts are wrapped in an elastic bandage or supported by a special bra. The stitches may be removed in 7 to 10 days.
Most women have some swelling, bruising, and soreness in their breasts for several days after the procedure. Medicine can help relieve the pain. Swelling and bruising may last for several weeks. Some women also have a burning sensation in their nipples right after surgery. Wearing a supportive bra 24 hours a day can help reduce swelling and support the breasts while they heal.
Most women can resume their normal work and social activities within a few days, unless those activities involve heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. Your doctor will tell you when you can return to more vigorous exercise and activities.
You will have scars after breast enlargement surgery. But these are usually in well-concealed areas (such as the crease under the breast, the armpit, or the border of the areola). These procedures are designed to minimize scarring so that incisions are not easily seen. Scars usually fade after several months. Having a breast lift in addition to an enlargement leaves larger, more visible scars.
Breast enlargement surgery is done to increase the size of the breasts and enhance their shape. You may decide to get breast implants to:
Breast implants may also be used to reconstruct breasts after surgery for breast cancer (mastectomy).
Breast enlargement surgery can increase your breast size by one or more bra cup sizes. It can also reduce differences in size and shape between your breasts.
Breast implants will not prevent the breasts from sagging as a result of future pregnancy, weight gain or loss, or aging.
Most women who have breast implants will need at least one more implant surgery in their lives.
Breast implants may make it harder to detect breast cancer on a mammogram. Other risks of getting breast implants include:
Having more than one procedure at the same time, such as a breast lift and breast enlargement, increases the risk of problems after the surgery.
Newer silicone implants contain a gel-like material instead of a liquid. These types of implants do not leak if they are punctured or cut.
Most women who get breast implants are satisfied with the results. You are likely to be happy with the results if you have clear, realistic expectations about the surgery and share these with your doctor. Implants will make your breasts larger and perhaps give them a shape you are more pleased with, but no surgeon can guarantee perfection.
Also keep in mind that:
Insurance will not cover the cost of breast implants unless they are being used as part of breast reconstruction after surgery for breast cancer. Likewise, insurance may not cover the costs of treatment for complications that arise during or after surgery or for future surgeries to remove or replace the implants. Check with your insurance company to find out whether getting breast implants will affect how much you pay for your insurance and what you are covered for.
A breast implant can hide abnormal breast tissue or lesions, making detection of abnormal or cancerous breast tissue during mammography more difficult. To produce accurate, high-quality images, the breast has to be squeezed fairly tightly. In rare cases, this causes a breast implant to leak or rupture. Also, scarring and calcium deposits around the implant may look like cancerous tissue and make the mammogram harder to interpret.
If you have breast implants and need to have a mammogram, tell the technician when you schedule the mammogram what type of implants you have (saline or silicone) and whether they are behind or in front of the chest muscle. You may need more views taken than are done during a typical screening. In some cases, MRI scans may be needed to produce a clear image.
Research studies are looking at the possible connection between silicone gel breast implants and connective tissue disease. So far, studies don't show that these implants cause connective tissue disease.3
A few women with breast implants have developed anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) that started in breast tissue near the implant. Although these cases are very rare, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is gathering information about a possible connection between implants and ALCL.
For more information on the safety of breast implants, see the FDA's website at www.fda.gov/breastimplants.
- Vasconez HC, Habash A (2010). Plastic and reconstructive surgery. In GM Doherty, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Surgery, 13th ed., pp. 1092–1131. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2006). FDA approves silicone gel-filled breast implants after in-depth evaluation: Agency requiring 10 years of patient follow-up. FDA News P06-189. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108790.htm.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2011). FDA update on the safety of silicone gel-filled breast implants. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/BreastImplants/UCM260090.pdf.
Current as of: March 12, 2014
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