A breast enlargement, also known as breast augmentation, is an operation to make your breasts bigger. It usually involves inserting implants underneath your breast tissue, although other techniques can sometimes be used.
Why have a breast enlargement?
You might choose to have breast enlargement if you’re not happy with the size of your breasts. It might be that you have naturally small breasts, or your breasts may have reduced in size following pregnancy. You may also decide to have a breast enlargement to even out your breasts if they’re unequal in size.
How to get a breast enlargement
If you’re having breast enlargement for cosmetic reasons (to improve how you look), it wouldn’t be provided by the NHS. You’ll need to have it done privately. You can find a consultant surgeon using the search function on our website. You should still let your GP know you’re thinking about having a breast enlargement, so they can be aware of any ongoing care you may need.
There are very few circumstances when breast enlargement is available on the NHS. These include if you have no breasts or there’s a significant difference in size between your breasts. Breast enlargement can also form part of a breast reconstruction, which you may have after surgery for breast cancer. This is available on the NHS.
Deciding on a breast enlargement
You’ll have an initial consultation with a surgeon to talk about what you’re hoping to gain from surgery. They’ll talk to you about the different options available. It might be that your surgeon recommends a breast uplift instead of, or as well as a breast enlargement.
Your surgeon will want to do a physical examination and assess whether you’re suitable for surgery. They may ask to take some photos of your breasts for your records. You’ll be asked if you would like a chaperone before any physical examination. Depending on your age, you may be advised to have a mammogram to check for any signs of breast cancer before going ahead with surgery.
Your surgeon will go through exactly what to expect from surgery, including the benefits and possible risks. They’ll also talk to you about the different types, sizes and positioning of implants, and discuss what would best suit you.
An alternative method of breast enlargement that doesn’t use implants is called fat transfer or lipofilling. This involves injecting fat from other areas of your body (such as your hips, thighs or tummy) into your breast area. It’s a gradual process that is likely to take a number of operations.
You’ll have some time to think about your decision before committing to surgery.
Preparing for breast enlargement
There are various things you can do to prepare for surgery. If you smoke, it’s best if you stop before your operation. Nicotine has a negative effect on wound healing, and smoking significantly increases the risk of other complications too. Try to lose any excess weight, and keep active to maintain your fitness.
Breast enlargement is usually done under general anaesthesia (meaning you’ll be asleep). You may be able to go home on the day of your procedure, or you may need to stay overnight.
What happens during breast enlargement surgery?
Your surgeon will usually make an incision in the crease underneath your breast, but sometimes this may be in your armpit or around your nipple. They’ll then insert the implant. Sometimes this is directly behind your breast, on top of your chest wall muscle, and sometimes it’s placed underneath the muscle in a ‘pocket’ that your surgeon creates.
Recovery and what to expect after breast enlargement surgery
Your breasts and chest area will probably feel tender for a while after breast enlargement surgery. The doctors and nurses looking after you will give you painkillers to help manage this. You should be out of bed and moving around on the day of your surgery. You might be back to your normal level of activity within six weeks. Expect to take one to two weeks off work to recover. You won’t be able to drive for some time after your operation. This may be for two weeks or more, but your surgeon will advise you exactly how long.
It can take several months for everything to settle down and you can properly judge the results of your operation. You’ll also have scars from breast enlargement surgery, but these will usually become paler over time.
Complications of breast enlargement
All surgical procedures carry some level of risk. Here are some of the most common complications associated with breast enlargement.
- Tenderness or increased firmness in your breast, caused by scar tissue around your implant (known as capsular contracture).
- Alterations in the sensations in your breasts and nipples.
- Implant rupture (leakage) – this is more likely to happen over time. Rupture doesn’t cause any immediate risk for most implants, and you may not even be aware of it. But if you do notice a change in size or shape, contact your surgeon for advice.
- Blood or fluid collecting in the area around your implant.
There’s a risk that you might not be happy with the end result. Breasts are rarely ever symmetrical, and surgery can actually make differences between your breasts more pronounced. You also need to bear in mind that the shape of your breasts will change over time as a natural result of ageing. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and changes in weight will also change how your breasts look.
In recent years, there has been growing evidence of a type of cancer that can be associated with breast implants. This is called Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). The risk of this cancer is small, but it’s important to be aware of. Your surgeon can give you more information about this.
How long do breast implants last?
Although breast implants are made to be tough, there’s more chance of them rupturing, or other problems developing, as time goes by. Around half of all implants may rupture within 15 years. If this happens, you may need revision surgery. You should be prepared for this and the potential costs of future surgeries before you commit to breast enlargement.
Everyone who has a breast implant in the UK, whether on the NHS or through a private provider, has their details added onto the Breast and Cosmetic Implant Registry. This is so you can be traced in the event of a product recall or specific safety concern relating to your type of implant.
Breast enlargement costs and fees
As a cosmetic procedure, breast enlargement wouldn’t typically be available through private medical insurance. You’ll usually need to self-fund this treatment. Breast enlargement costs in the UK vary.
Typically, an initial consultation with the surgeon will cost between £100 and £250, depending on where you live. If you move forwards with the procedure, you’ll be offered one of the following.
- An all-inclusive ‘package price’, where you know the full costs before undergoing treatment. Not all consultants and hospitals offer this.
- A ‘fee-per-service’ deal, where you receive different invoices from the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the hospital. You often won’t know the full costs until you receive the invoices.
For more information, you can read our guide on self-pay.
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