Cosmetic surgery myth busting

Almost all professions have challenges with misconceptions and headlines that lead people to jump to incorrect conclusions, and the world of cosmetic surgery is no exception to this. Most misconceptions are borne out of genuine misunderstandings, so here we try and put the record straight on some of the plastic surgery myths we’ve heard recently.

Cosmetic Surgery Myth: I won’t be left with scars after plastic surgery

Reality: Not true

Although plastic surgeons are adept at ensuring their procedures are carried out with minimal damage to the skin and the surrounding tissue, with most operations some scarring is unavoidable. Depending on the nature of the operation you choose, you may have a very discrete scar that fades over time, or you may have something more significant. The location of the surgeon’s incision, how well you follow your aftercare instructions and whether or not you gain/lose weight following your operation, can all have an effect on how visible scars can be.

Cosmetic Surgery Myth: If you’re overweight, liposuction is the shortcut you’ve been looking for

Reality: Not true

Liposuction is a great way of removing stubborn pockets of fat from troublesome areas. It will not transform you from a size 16 to a size 12. If you’re looking to lose weight, surgeons will advise you to try all other means of weight loss (starting with diet and exercise) before they will recommend liposuction.

For those who have tried to lose weight through non-surgical means, liposuction may form part of the treatment plan that you may consider, but there are other more effective solutions if weight loss is your desired outcome. These solutions are often more complex and will require a much longer recovery period compared with liposuction.

Myth: Breast implants are for life

Reality: Again, this is probably not true

As with all things man-made, breast implants will only survive a certain amount of time before they need to be taken out and replaced with newer versions.  As a rule of thumb, most breast implants can be expected to last between 10-15 years, but if you suspect that that something has changed in the look or feel of your implants, in rare cases they might need attention sooner. As you reach the ten-year milestone, it is worth talking to your surgeon about the longevity of your implants, as an expert option on how they are faring is helpful at this stage.

Your options after a double mastectomy

breast reconstruction optionsIn 2013, it was revealed that A-list celebrity Angelina Jolie had chosen to undergo a double mastectomy – removal of both of her breasts – as a preventative measure against developing breast cancer.

This brave decision was made as Jolie had lost her mother at the age of 56 to breast cancer, and she had found that she was a carrier of a ‘faulty’ hereditary gene which put her at high risk of developing the disease. As a mum of six young children, her decision was based on ensuring that her children did not grow up without their mother, if she were to develop the disease.

Thanks to highly developed and precise medical testing, Jolie was told that she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer and a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer. The choice to undergo the double mastectomy has reduced her risk to just 5%.

Possible steps after a mastectomy

Angelina Jolie chose to have her breasts reconstructed with breast implants after the initial surgery to have her natural breasts removed. This is a step favoured by many women who are in a similar position to Jolie, requiring (or choosing) either to have a single or double breast removal.

  • Immediate reconstruction: In some cases, the breast reconstruction can take place immediately after the initial breast removal, so the whole operation is done at one time. This is a much bigger operation to undergo, and the recovery time is longer, but once it is complete the overall process tends to be shorter.
  • Delayed reconstruction: Alternatively, some women prefer (or are required to) leave a gap between the initial removal and the follow up reconstructive surgery.

Implants are one option for breast reconstruction, the other route is called flap reconstruction. Instead of skin being moulded around a silicone implant, flap reconstruction involved tissue being grafted from other areas of the body (for example the thighs, buttocks, tummy or back) and inserted under the skin to form the reconstructed new breasts. As this tissue is live, it is a more complex operation, requiring a longer period in hospital at the beginning of the process.

The decision about which route is best for you will be made in collaboration with your consultant, who will be able to assess your case and make recommendations accordingly. Sometimes the decision rests with personal preference while other times it is guided by medical necessity.

Breast implants linked with rare cancer, just how great is the risk?

New research undertaken in the Netherlands has examined the incidence of women with breast implants developing a rare form of cancer. Although a link has been identified, the risks are extremely low, but here’s what you need to know.

The study looked at the likelihood of developing a rare cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) which is a cancer of the immune system. For women who have breast implants, this cancer usually originates in the scar tissue around the implant. Despite forming in the breast tissue, this is not breast cancer in its traditional form, it is a type of lymphoma.

According to the study, the chance of developing this type of lymphoma is small as the disease is very rare. It increases for women who have had breast implants, but even the increased risk is still small compared with the likelihood of developing other cancers:

  • For women aged 50, the chance is 1 in every 35,000
  • For women aged 70, the chance is 1 in every 12,000
  • For women aged 75, the chance is 1 in every 7,000

Despite this low risk, it is recommended that women who are considering breast implants are informed at their consultations about the increased risk of developing this type of lymphoma, so that they are making decisions when fully informed of the potential risks.

A rare form of cancer

The rarity of this cancer means that it was hard to source enough data to look at trends. Researchers would typically start with a self-selected modification such as breast implants and then look at how many women who have opted for this surgery go on to develop a particular condition. This way, they can begin to see if any patterns develop.

As ALCL is so rare, this wasn’t possible, so researchers took a different approach. They looked at women who had been diagnosed with the ALCL condition, then explored what proportion of them had previously opted for breast implants. They found that of the 43 women with the condition, 32 of them had breast implants, which suggested that there was a strong link.

What does this mean for me if I am considering implants?

This research does not mean that women who have or are considering breast implants, need to worry about a heightened risk of developing cancer. The important thing to remember is that although breast implants are linked with a greater chance of developing ALCL, the chances of developing the condition in the first place is very low, as it is one of the rarest cancers.

It is important that women (with and without implants) are very aware of the breasts and visit a GP if any changes are noticed. Symptoms of ALCL include swelling or pain in the area of your breast implant that does not desist, so if you notice this then make an appointment to speak to a specialist as soon as you can. It might be nothing to worry about – but the sooner a problem is found, the greater the chance is that it can be fixed.

For further guidance, here’s the latest position from BAPRAS, the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, of which I’m a member.