Breast Augmentation FAQ

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Common questions from women who are considering breast augmentation

Women who are considering breast augmentation should learn as much as possible about the surgery, how they may benefit and the risks involved in order to make an informed decision about what is right for them. A qualified plastic surgeon can provide answers to questions you are sure to have about your situation as an individual.

Am I a candidate for breast augmentation?

The best candidates for cosmetic breast augmentation are women who are in good health, feel that a fuller appearance will provide a boost to their self-image and have reasonable expectations. This includes women who want to correct a loss of breast volume after pregnancy or after losing weight, or to correct a significant difference in size between the breasts.

To determine if breast augmentation is right for you, do your research, think carefully about your goals and expectations and discuss all of your options with your plastic surgeon. For more information, see our section, Are You a Candidate for Breast Augmentation?

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Are breast implants safe?

The safety of both saline and silicone gel breast implants has been debated and studied since implants were introduced in the United States in 1962. Since then, several major studies have largely exonerated silicone gel implants as a cause of health problems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved implants filled with both silicone gel and saline for breast augmentation and breast reconstruction. Ongoing studies are being conducted to continue to gather data about the safety of breast implants. For more about the regulatory history of breast implants in the U.S. and studies that have been conducted, see our section on breast implant safety.

All surgeries, including breast augmentation, carry some degree of risk. Surgery using breast implants is also known to carry certain specific risks and possible complications.

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What different types of breast implants are available?

Breast implants consist of a silicone rubber shell that is filled with a saline solution during surgery or pre-filled with silicone gel. Breast implants come in different shapes, sizes and projections to accommodate women with different body types and aesthetic goals. Round implants with a smooth surface are currently used for the majority of breast augmentations, though some women choose contoured, or "anatomical," implants that have a textured surface. For more about the types of implants that are available, see our section, Types of Breast Implants.

If you decide to have breast enhancement surgery you will choose the type of breast implants used with the help and guidance of your plastic surgeon. To begin the process of choosing your new size, you can do the simple rice test to begin getting an idea of how you may look at different sizes and prepare for your consultation with a plastic surgeon. At this consultation, you will probably be shown actual breast implants and experiment with "sizers" placed inside a surgical bra or sports bra. After choosing a plastic surgeon, you will work closely with the doctor and his or her staff to finalize your choice of breast implants.

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What happens during breast augmentation surgery?

During breast augmentation surgery, breast implants are inserted into a pocket behind the breast tissues, positioned beneath the nipples and the incision closed with stitches. The surgery is usually performed on an outpatient basis and takes one to two hours to complete. Patients are usually given general anesthesia, which allows them to sleep throughout the entire procedure. The risks and possible complications include those associated with any surgical procedure as well as risks specific to surgery using breast implants. For much more information about incision types, implant placement, anesthesia, and risks and possible complications, see our section on breast augmentation surgery information.

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What risks and potential complications are involved?

All surgeries include some degree of risk, including infection, discomfort and adverse reaction to anesthesia. In addition, there are specific risks associated with surgery using breast implants, including capsular contracture and deflation/rupture. In general, the more serious occur rarely, and most complications involve an extension of the recovery period rather than any permanent effect on your final result.

Your plastic surgeon will evaluate your personal risk for any complications, use their expertise to avoid complications as much as possible and attempt to quickly solve any problems that arise. For much more about possible complications and their symptoms, see our section on the risks and possible complications of breast augmentation surgery.

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How much does breast augmentation cost?

Breast augmentation usually costs from $5,000 to $7,000, but can be significantly higher or lower. This cost may vary depending on the surgeon, their location and factors specific to your surgery. You will discuss costs and should be given complete information on the total fees at your consultation with a plastic surgeon.

Breast augmentation is usually not covered by health insurance, but financing for cosmetic surgery may be obtained through your surgeon's office, medical financing companies or other sources. For more information, see our section on costs and financing.

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How will I choose the new size that is right for me?

Choosing your new size can be stressful, but also an exciting part of preparing for breast augmentation. Your will work closely with your plastic surgeon during the process and ultimately make your decision about the new size that is right for you.

The rice test is a simple way to quickly "try on" breast implants of different sizes, begin to get an idea of your size goal and prepare for your consultation with a plastic surgeon. At the consultation, you will discuss your goals and expectations for breast augmentation, probably experiment with "sizers" placed into a surgical bra or sports bra and possibly have photos taken for you to look at later. You will then probably review sizing and finalize your choice at another appointment prior to surgery. For much more about determining your enhanced breast size, see our section on choosing your new size.

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How can I calculate my new bra size?

Women should check their bra size when their breasts change in size after breast augmentation or due to pregnancy or weight loss. If you are considering breast augmentation, knowing how to calculate bra sizes can help when you experiment with larger bras and make it easier to communicate with your plastic surgeon about your size goal.

Your bra size is a combination of two measurements, one around the ribcage underneath the breasts and the other at the fullest point of the breasts, taken with a soft tape measure. See our section on bra sizing for the simple formula used to calculate bra sizes.

Once you have calculated your bra size, use it as a starting point to try on different bras and find the style and size that is right for you. Differences in physical characteristics among individual women can affect how a bra fits, and there can be minor differences in the same size bra offered by different bra makers.

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How can I choose a qualified plastic surgeon?

If you decide to have breast augmentation, the most important decision you will make is to choose a plastic surgeon with the proper training and experience in breast augmentation procedures, and with whom you are personally confident and comfortable. The resources in our section on choosing a plastic surgeon can help you locate a surgeon in your area and learn how to verify the credentials of doctors, anesthesiologists and operating suites. After you have located a doctor, an initial consultation can help you decide if want the surgeon to perform your surgery.

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Should I choose a plastic surgeon who is board-certified?

Plastic surgeons must complete extensive training and pass rigorous examinations to be board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), one of 24 specialty boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties. This training and experience includes graduation from an accredited medical school, a minimum of 2 years of residency in plastic surgery and a minimum of 3 years of residency in general surgery. Plastic surgeons in Canada are certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). For more information, see our section on board certification.

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What happens at my breast augmentation consultation?

Your consultation with a plastic surgeon is your opportunity to ask questions about the doctor's qualifications, breast implants in general, the surgery and recovery period, your possibilities as an individual and anything else that you feel you need to know. The doctor should fully address all of your questions, perform an evaluation and offer expert advice on how to achieve your aesthetic goals. To prepare for your consultation, print out our Consultation Checklist, write down any other questions you have for the doctor and take it with you to the consultation.

After the consultation, you may wish to schedule your surgery, take more time to think or schedule a consultation with a different surgeon. For much more about this important step in the breast augmentation process, see our section on your consultation with a plastic surgeon.

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What steps should I take to prepare for surgery?

Careful planning and following the guidelines set forth by your plastic surgeon is the best way to reduce stress and make sure your breast augmentation surgery and recovery goes smoothly. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions for medications and vitamins to take before and after the surgery. Make sure your home is prepared in advance with medical supplies, plenty of food, comfortable clothes and pillows to elevate your upper body.

Prior to surgery, you will probably have a pre-op appointment to review sizing, finalize your choice of breast implants, supply blood for labwork, ask any questions you may have and sign an informed consent for breast augmentation surgery. On the day of surgery, follow your doctor's instructions for eating and drinking prior to surgery, remove any makeup or jewelry and make sure you have someone to drive you home after surgery. For a complete listing of breast augmentation pre-op planning tips, see our section on preparing for breast augmentation surgery.

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What can I expect during the recovery process?

Normal symptoms experienced after breast augmentation surgery are usually minor and subside rapidly with proper care. These symptoms include moderate swelling and bruising, mild to moderate discomfort and pain, crusting along incision lines and itching. It is very important that you work as a partner with your plastic surgeon and follow all of his or her instructions as you recover from surgery. Contact your doctor's office immediately if you experience any symptoms you believe may indicate a complication.

Most women are up and around the day after surgery and can resume most normal activities, including driving and returning to work, within a few days. However, you should avoid straining or extending your arms over your head for about a week after surgery, avoid stenuous physical activity for at least 3 weeks and wait at least 6 weeks before resuming upper body weight training. For the complete breast augmentation post-op guide, see our section on taking care of yourself after surgery.

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Will I have scars, and how extensive will they be?

A scar is a part of the body's natural healing process. Scars left by breast augmentation surgery are usually only about one inch long and well-hidden in the crease beneath the breast, around the nipple or in the armpit. A few women experience problems with a scar due to factors such as infection, injury to the incision site or too much sunlight. Your doctor may recommend that you treat your scars with vitamin E, silicone sheeting or silicone gel. For more information, see our section on scarring.

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What happens at the follow-up appointment with my surgeon?

Your follow-up appointment with your plastic surgeon will probably be scheduled for 7 to 10 days after surgery to remove your stitches (unless your surgeon uses dissolvable sutures) and undergo a post-operative examination. This and any other routine follow-up appointments are usually included in the total fee for the operation.

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Where can I find a glossary of frequently used terms about breast augmentation?

If you are looking for a definition or come across an unfamiliar term, refer to our Breast Augmentation Glossary, an easy-to-use listing of terms related to breast augmentation, breast implants and related breast health issues.

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Do breast implants affect screening tests used to detect breast cancer?

Breast implants may hide up to 25% of breast tissue from x-rays during a mammogram. A study funded by the National Cancer Institute found that mammograms missed 55% of breast cancers in women with breast implants as compared to 33% in women without implants. The technician performing the mammogram should know about the presence of breast implants so that they can use a special technique called "implant displacement views" and take care to avoid causing an implant to rupture. All women over 40, including women with breast implants, should receive a mammogram annually. For much more about mammograms and the other screening tests used to detect breast cancer, see our section on breast cancer screening.

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Will I be able to breastfeed after breast augmentation?

The majority of women who receive breast implants are able to successfully breastfeed. Women who have a nipple incision are at greater risk for problems since the incision is made in the area of the milk ducts, which are located behind the nipple. In contrast, the inframammary fold and transaxillary incisions leave the nipple area relatively undisturbed. If you think you may want to breastfeed after undergoing breast augmentation, be sure to discuss it with your plastic surgeon as part of the overall planning process.

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more resources:

  • Breast Surgery Procedures — Learn about other breast surgery procedures — Breast Lifts, Breast Reduction and Breast Reconstruction.
  • Breast Anatomy — Understanding the general anatomy of the breasts is helpful to women considering Breast Implants.
  • Breast Cancer Screening — All women, including those with breast implants, should undergo regular Breast Cancer Screenings.

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