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  • It’s only natural that some women should want bigger breasts – even if the way to get bigger breasts is usually unnatural. The good news is that unnatural is still safe and affordable for most women. Breast augmentation is the most popular plastic surgery procedure in North America, with nearly 300,000 operations performed in 2010.

    However, just because your bust is looking better, that doesn’t mean it’ll be feeling better. Almost 200,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.  And breast implants could be part of the problem. Why?

    Breast Implants and Cancer

    Don’t freak out. Breast implants don’t cause cancer, but they do make it more difficult to detect breast cancer in some situations because implants can obscure tumors. Typical mammograms can’t see through breast implants, so if you have ‘fake’ boobs, you should choose a technician specifically trained to conduct the scan for women with implants.

    Mammograms are unpleasant enough as is, but with implants, getting the right scan costs more, takes longer, and exposes the patient to higher levels of radiation. Not to mention that implants can rupture during mammograms.

    The Best Way to Check your Breasts

    Don’t freak out. Mammograms are still a proven way to find breast cancer even if you do have implants. And there are other ways to check for breast cancer besides a mammogram. First of all, whether you have implants or not, you should perform a breast self-examination.

    For women who’ve augmented their bra size synthetically, the self-exam should be monthly. It can be tough to distinguish abnormal tissue from, well, artificial tissue so women should ask their surgeon how to distinguish their implants from their breasts. It’s also important for women with implants not to press or squeeze excessively on or around the implant, as that may cause leakage or deflation.

    Whether or not you have implants, you should tell your doctor immediately if you find any new lumps or lesions when conducting a self-exam. Your doctor will probably want to perform a biopsy, and in that case, care must be taken to avoid damaging the implant.

    This may sound extra complicated, but really it’s not that much different than the normal process of checking for cancer. It’s not fun, but it’s more fun than finding out too late that you have cancer.

    Early detection is the best way to win the fight against breast cancer, which is why women with implants should consider another precaution: submitting a sample to a pathologist when getting breast implants, breast reduction, or breast revision surgery.

    Just like a woman’s natural looks, plastic surgery doesn’t last forever. Breast implants have to be replaced every so often (let’s not forget the breast augmentation recovery that is required each time). It’s impossible to tell how long breast implants will last – some break within a few days or weeks, while some last for decades. Like any product, implants are more likely to break the older they get.

    Within about ten years, most women after breast augmentation reportedly had at least one broken implant. Women who want breast implants should build the cost of future maintenance into the initial $5,000 – $7,000 price of augmentation surgery.

    It’s common knowledge that most insurance companies don’t cover elective breast surgery, but something a little more surprising is that your insurance company may not cover any supposedly related complications or may even drop your coverage.

    Breast reductions, augmentations and revisions are all beyond the realm of insurance coverage. Since plastic surgery is competitive and patients shop around, doctors don’t want to build in any extra costs. Extra costs like submitting a sample to a pathologist.

    Dr. Mani Ehteshami, a pathologist who recently relocated his practice to Southern California, is speaking out as an advocate for education regarding pathology samples. According to Dr. Ehteshami, most women “said they didn’t know they could ask their surgeon about sending a sample to a pathologist. They should at least have the opportunity to make that choice or decision.” Dr. Ehteshami goes on to say that he’s “been working with a surgeon who [submits samples to Ehteshami’s lab] and the women are quite happy with the results.”

    There’s still no reason to freak out. Dr. Ehteshami emphasizes that “the incidence of [cancer] is very low and does not warrant somebody with implants going and changing implants just because she wants to know if she has cancer. But if the patient is there it’s prudent.”

    As far as cost goes, it’s not prohibitive. The fee varies from lab to lab, with the baseline being the Medicare rate of $120 per breast. That’s what Dr. Ehteshami charges, insisting that it’s “unfair to charge a cash paying patient anymore than that.” Although some labs do. As with anything, you have to be cautious when you choose a pathologist.

    “If a patient pays a lot for a reduction, augmentation, or revision,” says Dr. Ehteshami, then “$240, certainly they can afford that.” Even if their insurance just simply won’t pay for it. “In reduction mammoplasty, part of the breast is removed, and that tissue is being thrown away instead of being submitted [to a pathologist].”

    Ehteshami blames this oversight simply on a lack of patient education. “Patients don’t know that treatments and measures are based on pathology reports. No one is better than a pathologist.”

    “There are some technical limitations,” says Dr. Ehteshami.  “For example, if the patient goes for replacement for implants – always the body sees the implant as a foreign material, so sometimes the tissue forms a capsule around it so technically it’s not possible to submit a [sample].”

    However, if it is possible, it’s always great to take precautions. Dr. Ehteshami mentions that the FDA announced in January that a new rare lymphoma (anaplastic lymphoma) is found more commonly in women with breast implants. “The lymphoma when it’s unassociated with implants has a poor prognosis, but most patients are cured when it’s associated with implants.”

    Don’t Freak Out!

    There’s still no reason for you to panic. Odds are, even if you have elective breast surgery and choose to submit a sample, things are going to be fine. But the old adage better safe than sorry certainly applies in this case.

    So even if your breast implants need replacing, don’t worry, be happy! You’ve still got big boobs and the perfect opportunity to make sure they’re healthy. And those things seem perfectly natural to me.

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