Breast augmentation surgery: Clinical considerations

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Anatomic placement

Placement of breast implants.

Figure 2. Placement of breast implants.

Traditionally, plastic surgeons place breast implants either beneath the pectoralis major muscle (submuscular placement) or over the pectoralis8 but beneath the glandular breast parenchyma (subglandular placement) (Figure 2).7

Advantages of submuscular placement are a smoother transition of the upper breast pole from the chest wall and less rippling visible through the skin, due to the additional muscular coverage of the implant. Another advantage is that capsular contraction rates are lower with submuscular placement, likely due to possible contamination of implants by lactiferous ductal microbes when accessing the subglandular plane.14,20 Disadvantages are pronounced discomfort after surgery and animation deformities with muscle contraction, particularly in young, highly active patients.

The images in the top row are before breast augmentation. Those in the bottom row are 7 months after breast augmentation surgery with 350-cc smooth, round silicone breast implants.

Figure 3. The images in the top row are before breast augmentation. Those in the bottom row are 7 months after breast augmentation surgery with 350-cc smooth, round silicone breast implants placed via an inframammary incision in a subpectoral pocket.

A popular modification of submuscular placement involves creating a surgical dissection plane between the subglandular tissue and the pectoralis major fascia. This “dual­­plane” approach allows the parenchyma to retract superiorly and reduce breast ptosis.7


Considerations in incision location
The incision is most commonly made along the inframammary fold (Figure 3), but it can also be done around the areola, in the axilla, or even through the umbilicus, although this approach is less commonly used.

Table 3 highlights important considerations with regard to incision location.15,20,21


Many surgeons give a single prophylactic dose of antibiotic before surgery, a practice that some studies have shown to be effective in reducing the risk of infection.15 However, the benefit of routine postoperative use of antibiotics remains unsubstantiated15: postoperative antibiotic use does not appear to protect against infection, capsular contracture, or overall complications in primary or secondary breast augmentation surgery.20


At our institution, breast augmentation surgery is an ambulatory procedure—the patient goes home the same day unless circumstances such as pain control warrant admission. This is, however, according to surgeon preference, and differs on a case-by-case basis. General anesthesia is the standard of care.15


In the immediate postoperative period, patients are instructed to wear a surgical bra for up to 6 weeks to allow stable scarring. Early mobilization is encouraged.7,15 Depending on the patient’s situation, recovery, and healing, she may be out of work for about 1 week, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Additional instructions are surgeon-specific. However, the patient is instructed to avoid bathing, swimming, immersion in water, and wearing underwire brassieres that could impair healing of an inferior incision; instead, patients are often instructed to wear a surgical bra provided on the day of surgery until cleared in the clinic.

Showering is allowed the next day or the second day after surgery, and of course there is no driving while on narcotics. Additionally, patients are counseled extensively regarding hematoma formation and the signs and symptoms of infection.

Patients are typically seen in clinic 1 week after surgery.

The cost of surgery may be $5,000 to $6,000 but can vary significantly from center to center depending on who the patient sees and where, and whether the patient presents for breast reconstruction after cancer or repair of congenital anomalies, or in certain cases of transgender surgery. The patient is typically responsible for the fee, but again this depends on the patient, indications, and particular insurance concerns.


In the United States, implant rupture rates range from 1.1% to 17.7% at 6 to 10 years after primary augmentation, 2.9% to 14.7% after revision augmentation, 1.5% to 35.4% after primary breast reconstruction, and 0% to 19.6% after revision reconstruction.11

Unfortunately, the existence of multiple implant manufacturers, numerous implant generations, and poorly standardized screening protocols and reporting systems make the true rate of implant rupture difficult to assess without definitive imaging or implant retrieval.11

Damage from surgical instrumentation during implantation is the most common cause of silicone breast implant rupture (50% to 64% of cases).22 Other causes include underfilling and fold flaw from capsular contracture.

Leakage of silicone gel filler may be confined to the periprosthetic capsule (intracapsular rupture) or extend beyond and into the breast parenchyma (extracapsular rupture). One study reported that only 10% of intracapsular ruptures progressed extracapsularly, while 84% of patients with extracapsular involvement remained stable for up to 2 years,23 indicating that intracapsular rupture may not portend worsening disease.11

Implant rupture occurs silently in most cases, with no clinically detectable signs or symptoms. In other cases, patients may present with alterations in breast shape and size, sudden asymmetry, firmness, pronounced capsular contracture, contour irregularity, or pain.

Aside from physical examination, comprehensive diagnostic testing includes imaging—ultrasonography, mammography, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Of these, MRI is the method of choice, with sensitivity and specificity exceeding 90% for detecting implant rupture.11 Classic findings on MRI include the “linguine” sign from a deflating implant shell, or the teardrop sign from implant sagging. Classic findings on ultrasonography include the “snowstorm” sign of extracapsular rupture and the “stepladder” sign of intracapsular rupture.

Mammography effectively detects free silicone in breast tissue with extracapsular rupture (25% of ruptures according to some studies)23; however, it cannot detect rupture within the implant capsule. As an aside, submuscular implant placement may interfere less with screening mammography than subglandular implants do.14,24

Current FDA recommendations to detect implant rupture encourage women with silicone breast implants to undergo screening 3 years after implantation and then every 2 years thereafter; no long-term monitoring is suggested for saline implants.15 Many plastic surgeons evaluate silicone breast implant patients every 1 to 2 years for contracture and rupture.8 Of note, capsular contracture impairs the effectiveness of ultrasonography and may require MRI confirmation.11

If implant rupture is confirmed, the current recommendation is to remove the implant and the capsule. Another implant may be placed depending on the patient’s preference. Rigorous washout remains a key feature of any surgical intervention for ruptured breast implants; however, in the event of extracapsular rupture, resection of silicone granulomas may also be required.11

Reoperation rates for primary breast augmentation surgery approach 20% and are even higher for secondary augmentation over a patient’s lifetime—the highest rate of all aesthetic procedures.7,14

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