Sept. 12, 2003 (Philadelphia) -- A second study in only seven months shows that women who get breast implants commit suicide three times more often than women who don't -- but at least one expert cautions that the findings could be misleading.
Both of these studies, done in Europe and together involving nearly 6,000 women who had the popular cosmetic surgery, follow a 2001 report on American women suggesting that those who get breast implants for augmentation face a nine-fold increased risk of suicide compared to women who don't get the procedure, and that they commit suicide four times more often than those who have other types of plastic surgery.
"All three studies suggest the need for surgeons who are doing these procedures to conduct thorough pre-operative psychological screening of patients," says David B. Sarwer, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry and surgery at the Center for Human Appearances at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "But very few are doing that."
He presented these findings Friday at the American Medical Association's annual Science Reporters Conference held here.
The latest study -- to be published in the upcoming issue of Annals of Plastic Surgery -- finds that 2,166 women who had breast implant surgery for augmentation of breast size in Finland between 1970 and 2000 had a rate of suicide three times higher than the general population.
It echoes another study, published in the British Medical Journal in March, which finds the same three-fold rate of suicide among Swedish women who had breast implants for augmentation compared to those who didn't. That report involved 3,521 women who had the surgery between 1965 and 1993. In both studies, all causes of death were compared between women who had breast implants and those who didn't.
"To be honest, I don't think we know the exact reason why these women have a higher rate of suicide, but it's very possible that a small minority who come in for breast augmentation are trying to solve significant psychological problems," Sarwer tells WebMD.
"I think some women come in with unrealistic expectations, that this surgery will make more popular, get them the promotion they haven't gotten, or save a failing marriage. But it's a large leap to suggest that not meeting those expectations would result in their attempting suicide."
More likely, Sarwer says, the increased rate of suicide may occur in women suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by a profound preoccupation with the slightest or even imagined defects in appearance, even when others reassure them they look fine. Breast size is a common source of obsession in these women, along with skin and other facial features; men with this condition often obsess over their muscle size.