Last updated: November 09, 2011
A NEW breast-reduction surgery involves no cutting and has minimal recovery time. But does it live up to its hype?
Breast reduction is one of the most drastic operations a woman can have. During surgery, fat, glandular tissue and skin are removed from the breasts, which are reshaped and the nipples repositioned.
Now a new form of breast reduction called Microlipo, that involves zero cutting, minimal downtime and discomfort and no scarring, is promising to transform the lives of thousands of women.
Very large breasts can lead to backache, neck pain, rashes, skin infections (caused by undergarments cutting in) and even depression.
There are no figures for the exact number of breast-reduction surgeries carried out locally, but Dr Graham Sellars, of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, says tens of thousands of women undergo the procedure every year in Australia.
Traditional breast reduction involves a general anaesthetic and at least three nights in hospital, with many women needing up to six weeks to recover. There is usually major scarring and the risks include uneven results, infection, blood clots, loss of sensation and the inability to breastfeed.
>> How Microlipo works
Microlipo is an extension of traditional liposuction, in which a thin tube, known as a cannula, is inserted into the fat layer below the skin via a tiny incision. This has a dual purpose: to break up fat cells and suck them out.
Dr Sellars says while the procedure is more common in the UK and US than in Australia, it has been available here for a year or two and can be performed under local or general anaesthetic.
After treatment, the patient wears a compression garment for three days to reduce swelling.
Dr Sellars says while standard breast-reduction surgery has a two- to four-week recovery time, Microlipo has a one- to two-week recovery time.
Though the side effects are not as severe as those of traditional breast reduction, the procedure is not without risk. Sydney cosmetic surgeon Dr Joseph Hkeik and Dr Sellars both point out there may be irregularities in breast size following the procedure and, as with any surgery, there are possible side effects such as numbness, fluid under the skin and, rarely, infections.
>> Not for everyone
Microlipo is not for women who have lost a lot of weight and have loose skin or stretch marks on the breasts, as reducing volume will exacerbate these problems.
The procedure may also not be suitable for women with a family history of breast cancer. “We insist on a mammogram before the procedure and six months after, so we have an accurate picture of the breast tissue pre- and post-surgery,” says British surgeon Dr Puneet Gupta.
>> Miracle or marketing?
While Dr Hkeik calls Microlipo a “pioneering procedure”, others are more sceptical. “Microlipo is more marketing spin than an actual revolution,” Dr Sellars says. “It definitely won’t replace conventional breast-reduction surgery.”
He says this is because it only sucks out the fat and it is difficult to predict how much fat is in a breast. “The procedure works with areas where the fat comes off easily. But you generally don’t get significant reductions.”
While he says Microlipo is less invasive than traditional breast-reduction surgery, he adds, “People must understand what it can and can’t do.”
“I went from an E to C cup”
+ Claire O’Keefe, 30, had Microlipo in 2010.
“I’d spent years looking like a cartoon character with breasts that were huge in proportion to my size-12 figure. I was flat-chested until I was 14 and overnight my breasts were huge.
“Suddenly the things I loved, such as dancing, swimming and fashionable clothes, became a nightmare because it was impossible to find things to fit me. Nights out were unbearable because my breasts attracted unwanted male attention.
“I love to exercise but anything that involved running or jumping was painful and I had to wear a normal bra plus two sports bras to do a work out. Sleeping on my front was also a no-no and I anticipated getting back problems as I got older.
“I know women who had traditional breast-reduction surgery and, despite all the problems their breasts had caused, they ended up wishing they’d put up with them because the scarring after the operation is so bad.
I’d also like a family one day and I’ll want to breastfeed “Microlipo was painless. I had a bit of swelling afterwards, which took six weeks to subside. The worst part was wearing the compression bandages. They were so tight it was difficult to sleep.
I only had to wear them for three days, which is nothing compared to the weeks of recovery after traditional surgery.
“The operation was worth every cent. I’m now a C-cup. I can exercise, sleep on my front, and I’m no longer cynical about male attention. It has been life-changing for me.”
+More information: Microlipo costs $5000 to $10,000 and you may be able to reclaim some costs on Medicare or a health fund. Visit www.plasticsurgery.org.au