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Is Breast Reduction Right for You?

Large breasts affect nearly 1 million American women, but there is help available.


While breast reduction surgery is designed to relieve physical complaints, doctors say that aesthetics also play a role.

While good shape and contour are almost always achieved, doctors say the one problem that can't be avoided is scarring.

"There is always some scarring, it is always visible and it is always permanent," says Snodgrass.

That said, it's important to note that the degree to which it occurs is highly personal and different for each woman.

"In general people have different scarring potential. Even within each person the body can scar differently depending on the area, so some women can scar far less than others," says Zenn.

Women with a history of keloids for example (a complication of excessive scar tissue that is most prevalent in blacks and Asians) are frequently dissuaded from having the surgery because scarring might be excessive.

However, Snodgrass says that most women aren't bothered by the potential for scarring.

"The statistics show that well over 90% of women are not only glad they did it, but they would do it again and they would recommend it to someone else," says Snodgrass.

More Pros Than Cons

In addition to the external scars, scarring inside the breast also occurs. And for many years doctors were concerned this might interfere with the accuracy of a mammogram -- and in doing so increase the risk of breast cancer.

Now, however, improvements in imaging techniques have made it easier to tell scar tissue from disease. Moreover, new research reveals that women who have breast reduction surgery actually have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

Reporting in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, author Leroy Young, MD, writes that based on the results of six observational studies conducted in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Sweden, women who have this operation are at lower risk for this disease.

"We are not recommending this as a way to reduce your risks, but it is good to know that the operation has this added benefit," says Snodgrass.

Although far less serious but still of significant concern to some is a condition called "nipple numbness" -- a lack of sensitivity and a decrease in sexual response that can sometimes occur as a result of the surgery.

"The operation itself is designed to preserve nerve supply and sensation but there are variations in personal anatomy that you can't account for," says Zenn.

However, Snodgrass reminds us that just as often a woman may experience nipple numbness as a sheer result of her breast size and she may gain breast sensitivity after surgery.

"It can go either way but truthfully, most women are so delighted with the advantages of this surgery overall, nipple numbness is usually not a major issue," she says.

Finally, if you're thinking of breast feeding after breast reduction surgery, doctors say it's possible, as long as your nipple was not removed and repositioned.

That said, doctors also caution that there can be a significant reduction in milk supply after breast reduction surgery, and some women may find they can't breast feed at all.

"If a woman is totally committed to breast feeding her children, then I always suggest she put off the breast reduction surgery until after her childbearing is completed," says Snodgrass.

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