Bigger isn’t always better — especially when it comes to breast size for some young women. Teenagers with excessively large breasts may suffer from back and neck pain, bra strap grooving on their shoulders, and skin irritation under their breasts. They often also have trouble participating in physical activities and finding clothes that properly fit. Yet in the past, they were forced to deal with the discomfort until they were older and could decide to have reduction mammaplasty (the formal name for breast reduction surgery).
However, Dr. Brian Labow, director of the Adolescent Breast Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, says that breast reduction surgery can — and should — be a viable option for teens and young women. It can improve their health and their quality of life, too.
Below, Dr. Labow answers some common questions about this procedure and explains why it can be worth considering for some teens.
Why would a young woman consider breast reduction surgery?
The patients we see for breast reduction surgery are young, healthy women who are really compromised by their breast size. Excessive breasts can add up to 10 extra pounds of tissue around the neck, which can put a real strain on the body. In addition to the physical discomforts, excessive breast size can make people feel self-conscious in different situations and can impact their quality of life, mental health, and self-esteem.
Breast reduction surgery is an effective way to address these problems. Many of the young women I operate on tell their friends how much of a difference the surgery has made, and their friends may also decide to have the same procedure. As a result, there are now five surgeons in our department performing the procedure to meet the level of demand that exists.
Who is a good candidate for breast reduction surgery?
Females with very large breasts that cause physical symptoms, and who have not been able to resolve the symptoms by other means — such as better fitting bras, physical therapy, or other interventions — can be good candidates for breast reduction surgery.
Ideally, we prefer to wait three years or more from the start of the female’s first menstrual cycle (period) to operate so that breast growth will be near or at completion before operating.
It’s also extremely important for surgical candidates to be mature enough to understand the benefits and risks so they can make an educated decision.
What’s involved in breast reduction surgery?
Breast reduction surgery requires general anesthesia, and the patient will usually be asleep for about two to two-and-a-half hours. Following the procedure, there are no bandages to manage or stitches to remove. Forty percent of young women can go home the same day, while 60 percent stay one night. Most patients are off pain medications within three to five days and they typically go back to school in a week. By three weeks after surgery, patients can do light exercise and by six weeks, they are back to their normal activity level. The scars from the surgery can take one to two years to fade.
In a study exploring breast reduction surgery in younger patients that was published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, my colleagues and I discovered this procedure improves the health and wellbeing of teens.
Will insurance cover this surgery?
Every insurance company is different, so it’s important to find out what yours will cover in your specific situation. In general, though, insurance companies require the patient’s height and weight, as well as breast size, to calculate the surface area. The proportion will be used to ensure that this is medically necessary, and not just a cosmetic procedure.
For teens considering this procedure, what else would you like them to know?
One of the biggest barriers for some young women is that they have to get undressed for the exam and they may feel self-conscious. In our clinic we have an excellent and experienced group of female physician assistants and nurses who specialize in working with teens and helping them feel comfortable.
Learn more about the Adolescent Breast Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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