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Breast Reduction Surgery: 4 Sensitive Questions Answered by a Surgeon

Get answers to some of the most common questions patients ask about breast augmentation and reduction, straight from Carlie Thompson, MD — a board-certified breast surgeon.

What kinds of breast plastic surgery procedures are there?

Dr. Thompson says that plastic surgery performed on the breasts includes reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. 

Breast reconstructive surgery is done for patients being treated for cancer who have had breast tissue removed or patients born with a congenital deformity who need to have their breasts reconstructed. 

Breast cosmetic surgery is done for patients who want to change the size, shape, or aesthetic appearance of their breasts.

Breast reduction surgery quote

Breast plastic surgery includes surgeries like breast augmentation, breast reduction, and breast lift: 

  • Breast augmentation involves the use of breast implants and/or fat grafting, which is when a doctor takes fat from another part of the body and injects it into the breasts, to increase the size or volume of the breasts and change their shape. 
  • Breast reduction, or reduction mammoplasty, is done to decrease the size and change the shape of the breasts. 
  • Breast lift, or mastopexy, is done to change the shape, contour, and position of the breasts. 

“These procedures — breast augmentation, breast reduction, and breast lift — can be done alone or in combination, and the goal of these procedures is to change the appearance of the breasts,” explains Dr. Thompson.

Who may need breast reduction surgery?

Breast reduction surgery is done to remove breast tissue in an attempt to reduce the size and volume of the breasts. 

“This surgery is done for patients who have large or extra-large breasts that cause some sort of physical, mental, or emotional distress, such as neck, shoulder, and back pain and psychological distress from living with very large breasts,” Dr. Thompson says. 

“Breast reduction surgery can be done for a number of reasons, but the ultimate goal is to reduce the size of the breasts and to give the patient what they feel is a more proportional breast size for their body.”

What are the benefits and risks of breast reduction surgery?

Benefits

According to Dr. Thompson, the benefits of breast reduction surgery include the relief of physical, mental, emotional, or psychological discomforts that a patient might be experiencing from having large breasts, such as:

  • Relief of neck, shoulder, or back pain
  • Alleviation of other physical consequences associated with having large breasts, such as infections that occur in the crease under the breast tissue 
  • Increased body confidence
  • Relief of psychological and mental distress caused by having very large breasts 

Risks

Dr. Thompson names several main risks that can accompany breast reduction surgery:

  • Bleeding and infection
  • Scarring
  • Potential inability to breastfeed 
  • Possibility of needing a revisional surgery

Dr. Thompson says that it’s important for patients considering breast reduction surgery to understand that surgery is not a perfect science. Understanding and having reasonable expectations about the outcome of the surgery is essential. On the subject of scarring, Dr. Thompson says, “This scarring can happen on the skin and within the breast tissue, where it can be felt as a lump or discomfort in the breast. Scarring within the breast tissue can also lead to abnormalities on mammograms.”

What preparation is needed before surgery?

Dr. Thompson says that the first step for people considering breast reduction surgery is to meet with a well-trained and qualified surgeon who has plenty of experience doing this operation.

“In the United States, breast reduction surgeries are typically done by plastic surgeons.”

Questions to ask the surgeon during the visit

Dr. Thompson suggests the following questions to ask the surgeon:

  • How much experience do you have doing this operation?
  • What are the risks of the operation? 
  • What is the expected recovery? 
  • Am I going to need to stay in the hospital? 
  • What are reasonable expectations for the outcome of the surgery? (Here the surgeon might have pictures that they could show the patient of breast reduction surgeries that they've done in the past.) 
  • Will I have drains after the surgery? 

Dr. Thompson says that during the visit with the surgeon, the surgeon will assess the patient’s candidacy for the operation and potentially take some preoperative photos. Then, if the patient decides to proceed with the surgery, the surgeon might want the patient to undergo an evaluation by their primary care physician and have blood work done. 

If the patient is a smoker, the surgeon might ask or encourage the patient to stop smoking well ahead of the surgery. 

In preparation for the surgery, it is also important to arrange to take time off work or school to recover and have help available.