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What You Need to Know About Breast Reduction Surgery


Updated January 13, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What Is Breast Reduction Surgery?

Breast reduction surgery, also known as reduction mammaplasty, reduces the size and volume of the breasts by surgically removing breast tissue, often simultaneously creating the effect of a breast lift. Excess fat and skin are removed and the remaining tissue is tightened and repositioned to create a breast that is in better proportion to the rest of the patient’s body.

Who Can Benefit From Breast Reduction Surgery?

Breast reduction surgery may be helpful if you:

  • feel that your breast size limits your physical capabilities and activity level

  • have pain in your back, neck, and/or shoulders that is caused by the weight of your breasts

  • have deep grooves in your shoulders from the pressure of your bra straps

  • experience frequent (even chronic) skin irritation beneath your breasts

  • have one breast that is significantly larger than the other

  • are self-conscious or bothered by breasts that you feel are too large or hang too low on your body

  • have stretched-out skin (which may also result in unusually large areolas)

  • have nipples that lie beneath your breast crease when not supported by a bra

  • have trouble finding clothes or bras that fit due to overly large breasts

Who Is a Good Candidate for Breast Reduction Surgery?

The best candidates for breast reduction are non-smokers who are in generally good health and maintain a stable weight that is at or near the patient’s ideal weight.

It is also important for the patient to have a positive outlook and realistic expectations about outcome.

Although breast reduction can be performed at any age, most surgeons highly recommend waiting until breast development has stopped. Some surgeons also recommend waiting until a woman is done having children, since pregnancy and breastfeeding may have significant and unpredictable effects on the size and shape of your breasts. Still, many women decide to undergo breast reduction surgery before having children.

Pre-Operative Considerations for Breast Reduction Surgery

Your surgeon will usually order pre-op lab tests to confirm your health status. He may also require that you adjust, stop, or begin taking certain medications in the week or two before your surgery, including avoiding aspirin, many anti-inflammatory drugs, and herbal supplements for 2 weeks prior to surgery.

Your surgeon will want to know about any family history of breast cancer and results of previous mammograms or biopsies. He or she will examine your breasts and may take photos and measurements of the size and position of your breasts, nipples, and areolas. You may even be asked to get a mammogram before surgery.

Recovery and Downtime After Breast Reduction Surgery

Most patients can return to non-strenuous work after about 2 weeks. Strenuous work or exercise should not be resumed until at least 3-4 weeks have passed, and sexual activity should be avoided for a minimum of 1-2 weeks.

After that, you should continue to be extremely gentle with your breasts for at least the next 6 weeks. As with all surgery, it is important to understand that these guidelines can vary widely based on the patient’s health, the techniques used, and other variable factors surrounding the surgery. Any severe pain should be reported to your doctor.

Risks and Complications of Breast Reduction Surgery

Risks and possible complications include:

  • scarring

  • excessive bleeding, blood clots, or hematoma

  • skin or fat necrosis (tissue death)

  • anesthesia risks

  • skin discoloration

  • persistent edema (swelling)

  • temporary or permanent loss of sensation in the nipples

  • allergic reactions to suture materials/adhesives, blood products, or topical or injectable drugs used before, during, or after surgery

  • unsatisfactory aesthetic results, including contour irregularities and/or asymmetry

  • excessive breast firmness

  • need for revisional surgery

  • potential loss of the ability to breastfeed

After surgery, call your surgeon immediately if any of the following occur: chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual heartbeats, or excessive bleeding.

How Much Does Breast Reduction Surgery Cost?

The average total cost of a breast reduction varies from $4,500 to $7,500, but the range can be as wide as $3000-$9,000. The discrepancies in cost have to do with the complexity of the procedure, your surgeon’s skills, qualifications, and reputation, and the geographical area. Total costs include your surgeon’s fee, anesthesia fees, facility fees, lab fees, and medications.

The good news here is that many insurance plans will pay for all or part of the cost of breast reduction if the patient’s doctor verifies that heavy breasts are causing chronic pain.

Complementary Procedures

Breast reduction surgery is often done in conjunction with other surgeries to enhance the patient’s results. Breast reduction can be performed together with a tummy tuck, liposuction, or post-bariatric procedures like an arm lift, thigh lift, butt lift, or even a complete lower body lift.

Seeing Your Results

Most swelling should subside within 2-4 weeks, although the shape of the breast will continue to settle and refine for 1-3 months. Your new breast size and shape should remain constant provided you maintain a stable weight.

Some breast reduction scars are obscured in the natural crease underneath the breast or by the border of the areola. However, in many cases, there is also a visible scar extending vertically from the bottom of the areola to the crease underneath the breast. Although they are permanent, scars will fade and improve over time, continuing to flatten and fade for up to 1 year.

Learn More About Breast Reduction Surgery

To learn more about how breast reduction surgery is done, step by step, see What Happens During Breast Reduction Surgery.


Breast Reduction, Consumer Information Sheet, American Society of Plastic Surgeons; http://www.plasticsurgery.org/Patients_and_Consumers/Procedures/Reconstructive_Procedures/Breast_Reduction.html

Breast Reduction, Consumer Information Sheet, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; http://www.surgery.org/consumers/procedures/breast/breast-reduction

Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank, 2008 Statistics, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

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