Improved Breast Reduction Techniques Make Surgery A Better Option Than Ever Before

Verne Palmer

by Verne Palmer | August 10, 2010 @ 04:00PM

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By the end of each workday, Julie Stephens' back ached and her bra straps had dug fiery tracks across both shoulders. It has been that way as long as she could remember.

She couldn't go running or horseback riding with her friends, and she could never find clothes that fit – especially bras and bathing suits.

Even worse were the looks and comments her double-D breasts drew wherever she went.

"I used to try to hide in baggy blouses," the 27-year-old Mar Vista resident says. "People treat you differently when you have big breasts, especially men. They treat you like a bimbo, and because of something that has nothing to do with who you are as a person."

Teri Taylor was afraid to walk to the store for fear of being harassed. Men would follow her in cars, call her "baby" and offer her rides. One day, while the 38-year-old administrative assistant was picking up cat food at a neighborhood market, two men came up and asked her if her 38DD breasts were for real.

"It's scary," she says. "Men used to tell me what pretty blue eyes I had, but no one's told me that for two years."

Tonia McCallop knows just how she feels.

"Every time I talk to men, they would stare at my chest," the 29-year-old Inglewood resident says. "It was like, oh, big boobs, and they'd go crazy."

The three are among 40,000 women nationwide who – tired of chronic pain, lewd comments, the inability to wear trendy clothes, or enjoy something as simple as jogging or aerobics - are opting for reconstructive surgery to downsize what other women pay to enlarge.

"I think it reflects a societal change," says Dr. W. Grant Stevens, medical director of the Breast Center at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital.

"On the one hand, women are more physically active today, and they don't want to be limited. On the other, more and more professional women are coming in because they say they're not being taken seriously. They want clients and co-workers to look at their faces when they talk to them, not their chest."

Contributing to the trend are improved surgical techniques developed within the past five years that spare women the loss of nipple sensation, the ability to breast-feed, and unsightly scars that once dogged the procedure.

"This has been viewed as a disfiguring operation for far too long," says Stevens, a clinical instructor of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center.

"Women need to know that they can have relief from the physical and psychological discomfort they're suffering without accepting horrific scars as a tradeoff."

Unfortunately, he says, many plastic surgeons – too many in his opinion – aren't concerned with how breast reductions end up looking. As a result, patients who don't do their homework still may find themselves with unsightly scars and stitch marks.

"I see women coming in with railroad marks across their chest – I swear, they look like stitches out of a Frankenstein movie – and there's no excuse for that." Dr. Stevens says.

Techniques such as liposuction - liposculpting, Stevens calls it – can be used to siphon off breast tissue before surgery, thereby reducing the length of the incisions needed. Better ways to handle stitches and incisions can flatten scars and minimize discoloration, dramatically improving appearance.

Even more important is the movement away from the once-standard practice of detaching the nipple and then grafting it back on to the reconfigured breast.

Much of the advance comes from a better understanding of breast anatomy, says Dr. David Davis, a plastic surgeon with a private practice in Los Angeles and a soon-to-be office in Manhattan Beach.

"Knowing how the ducts that carry milk to the nipple are hooked up, where the blood supply comes from and how the nerves are connected enables surgeons to reduce the breast mound without detaching the nipple and interfering with sensation or ability to breastfeed," he says.

However, the refined procedure isn't for everyone. "Women with large, pendulous breast and inelastic skin and tissue may need the nipple graft technique," he says. "But for the large majority of women, it's not necessary."

Stevens says that While lifestyle changes are spurring the increase in breast reduction surgery, the vast majority are done for medical reasons – some reasons include chronic neck, back and shoulder pain, persistent skin problems, breast pain, headaches, or numbness and tingling in the fingers.

"I did a reduction last year that was 15 pounds," he says. "The women wore a 54EEE bra. Her breasts were so large they were affecting her breathing." Insurance companies cover most of the $10,000 to $15,000 cost of the surgery, which is done on an outpatient basis with general anesthesia, he says. Patients are usually back to work within one to two weeks and back to full physical activity within three to four.

Breast reduction patients, as a group, are the happiest, most appreciative patients a plastic surgeon has, says Stevens, who performs between 100 to 150 such procedures a year.

"Face lift patients may love the new look of their faces, but for breast reduction patients, this isn't just a new look, it's an end to pain and discomfort that they've suffered for years, sometimes decades."

Tonia McCallop can attest to that.

"I had trouble with my back and neck for years. Now that's gone," the 29-year-old hospital patient coordinator says.

There have been other changes as well. She's signed up for three-day-a-week aerobics classes and is playing on the hospital softball team.

"I'm much more comfortable about myself now," says McCallop, who went from a 42DD bust to 36C. "I can wear nice clothes, and the buttons don't always look like they're ready to pop off. I can sleep on my stomach, and I can work in a small kitchen without knocking people out of the way."

Julie Stephens, who thought about the surgery for years before taking the plunge, knows just how hard that decision can be.

"A lot of women are afraid of the scarring, but many of them have stretch marks anyway." the escrow company employee says. "The hairline scars I have now are much better than the stretch marks that I had."

"It's the best thing that someone can do who's uncomfortable with the way they're built," she says. "I can't imagine anyone having any regrets." 

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