Breast reduction surgery is one of the most common cosmetic procedures in the UK, and has one of the highest satisfaction rates.
Many people opt for the procedure to put a stop to the side effects of having large breasts. Patients find their posture improves, any back ache they had as a result dramatically reduces, and they generally go on to live healthier lives as they can do a lot of activities, they wouldn’t have been previously able to do.
However, it's not a small undertaking, and recovery time is up to six weeks, so understanding what you're signing up for is important.
So that you can make an informed decision and feel clued up for your initial consultation, if you decide to go ahead, we asked Mr Naveen Cavale, a Consultant Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon for both the NHS and at his own private practice in London's Cadogan Square, to fill us in on everything we need to know about breast reduction surgery.
What is breast reduction surgery?
It involves general anaesthetic and the goal of the surgery is mainly to make the breasts smaller and reduce the problems because of the excess weight. The ideas is to take away fat, breast tissue and skin to leave the patient with smaller breasts. The surgery also involves lifting the nipple into a new position. A common misconception is that the nipple is removed, but nearly all operations involve keeping the nipple attached on a piece of stalk-like tissue called a pedicle. The only time we would remove it is if the breasts were very large or droopy in which case, we would remove but then re-attach, a bit like a skin graft.
After this step, breast tissue and skin are cut away and then reshaped to create a smaller breast. The nipple is then put back in place. The majority of operations are done using what is known as an anchor-type reduction – the incision on the skin is effectively an anchor shape. The surgery takes around three hours under anaesthetic, and patients come in and go home the same day on the whole.
How many bra sizes can you drop with breast reduction surgery?
There's no exact science with determining how many cup sizes you can drop, and a good plastic surgeon should inform you of this during the consultation stage.
How painful is breast reduction surgery?
With breast reduction surgery, the majority of my patients find the pain isn’t as bad as they thought. The reason for this is that, during a reduction, we don’t touch the muscle – it’s just tissue and skin. Whereas with a breast augmentation, the insertion of implants involves cutting into the muscle which is more likely to cause pain.
How long does it take to recover from breast reduction surgery?
We advise patients to take 10 days off work if they’re going into the office, but if they’re working from home, which is a much more feasible option at the moment, then I would suggest they can work from home again from about four days afterwards. Showering is possible the day after surgery, and a sports bra is worn for six weeks, day and night, this not only helps keep swelling and bleeding under control, it also reduces pain.
What are the benefits of breast reduction surgery?
Breast reduction surgery has the highest patient satisfaction rate out of all cosmetic procedures, despite the fact that most patients will have scars. They aren’t always very visible, but it is something we need to warn patients about. The benefits are huge for patients who undergo this surgery. Patients will often find back ache reduces, their posture improves, the walk better, they feel more comfortable in their clothes, their confidence is boosted – it really is a transformative surgery that can enhance a patient’s quality of life. You often find that those who have undergone the surgery go on to live even healthier lives because they can do exercise that their larger breasts would have previously prevented i.e. running.
Another important benefit to note is that patients will find they can spot any irregularity in the breasts easier. As there is less breast remaining, theoretically, there is less tissue for cancer to develop in. It’s also often easier for patients to spot the early signs of breast cancer such as lumps, changes in texture as the breasts are smaller. It’s worth noting that mammograms can still be carried out as normal post-reduction surgery too.
What are the possible cons of having breast reduction surgery?
The usual risks associated surgery apply – use of general anaesthetic, bleeding, infection. Be prepared to lose feeling in the nipples as this can happen. There is also a small risk of losing a nipple if the blood supply is inadequate after surgery. This has never happened to me personally, but it is a risk we have to inform patients of and is much more likely to happen if you’re a smoker, overweight or have other medical conditions such as diabetes. Finally, you might not be able to breastfeed if you have a reduction. It’s not impossible, but the majority of patients will not be able to do so, post-surgery.
How should you go about finding a plastic surgeon?
The very first thing is to check that they’re on the General Medical Council (GMC) specialist register. They should have a specialism in plastic surgery. Secondly, do your homework – look at their before and afters, read their reviews and always have a paid-for, in depth consultation. I would also encourage patients to look at the memberships that their surgeon is a member of. It’s always a good sign if they’re a member of BAAPS or ISAPS as these bodies work to ensure the highest standard of surgery. They ensure the surgeon follows a code of practice and ethics to improve overall safety standards.
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