Implant Breast Reconstruction vs Breast Augmentation: What’s the Difference?

By: Courtney Floyd

Blogs

There is a large misconception that breast reconstruction with implants is the same as a cosmetic breast augmentation. Although there are similarities, the procedures and outcomes are usually very different.

Cosmetic breast augmentation is one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures performed today and helps enhance the size and shape of the breasts. Implants are filled with either saline or silicone (pre-filled) and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Surgery typically takes 1-2 hours and is performed as an outpatient, ie you go home the same day once you’ve recovered from the surgery. 

In most cases, implant breast reconstruction is performed in two procedures, or “stages”. The first step involves placing a tissue expander either above or below the chest muscle. The tissue expander is then “filled” over the course of a few weeks to stretch the overlying tissues. Once the desired breast size is achieved, a second surgery is performed to remove the tissue expander and place the permanent implant. Patients can typically expect to stay in the hospital for one night following the initial surgery. Placement of the permanent implant at the second stage can be performed as an outpatient.

Women having cosmetic augmentation still have their natural breast tissue covering the implants. This tissue helps insulate and camouflage the implants. Following a mastectomy, patients no longer have breast tissue to cover the implants. Without the overlying breast tissue, implant deformities such as rippling become more visible. Many breast reconstruction patients also complain that their implants feel “cold” since the tissue padding left to cover the implant can be quite thin. 

The lack of breast tissue can also make it more difficult to achieve a natural looking final result for breast reconstruction patients. This can be especially noticeable for patients having unilateral (one sided) reconstruction.

Loss of sensation is also common for breast reconstruction patients. When the breast tissue is removed, sensory nerves that provide feeling to the breast are severed. Sadly, most women who undergo implant reconstruction will also lose breast sensation and will feel numb. This is not something breast augmentation patients typically experience as only a small hidden incision is made to place the implant and no breast tissue is removed.

Although it is common for people to believe a cosmetic breast augmentation and implant breast reconstruction are the same, there are many differences. Breast reconstruction is definitely NOT a “boob job” and patients choosing implant reconstruction should not expect results similar to those of breast augmentation patients.

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