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Breast Augmentation (Enlargement)

If you’re considering breast augmentation (also called breast enlargement surgery), you can find out more about the procedure and what you can expect on this page.

Breast augmentation is the most common type of cosmetic surgery carried out on women in the UK. You may be considering it for reconstruction reasons following a mastectomy, or for cosmetic ones – to enhance the size and shape of your breasts.

Procedure Information

This webpage will give you information about a breast augmentation. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is a breast augmentation?

A breast augmentation is an operation to insert silicone implants to make your breasts bigger, and usually to improve their shape.

What are the benefits of surgery?

If the operation is successful, your breasts should be larger and have a better shape.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

Using padded bras or bra inserts can make your breasts look bigger with a better shape. 

Natural breast enhancement pills may help to increase the size of your breasts. However, these pills have not been properly tested.

You may benefit from using the Brava® system that involves using a special bra to apply gentle suction to your breasts. However, the long-term results are not known. Some surgeons may recommend using the Brava® system followed by injecting your own fat into your breasts. However, this technique can cause infection.

Injecting synthetic material into your breasts has a temporary effect. This treatment can cause infection that may need surgery.

What kind of breast implant should I choose?

All implants are made of an outer layer (shell) of silicone. They can be filled with silicone, salt water (saline) or both.

The silicone used to fill the implant can be in the form of a liquid or gel (cohesive silicone). Liquid silicone and saline implants give a softer and more natural feel. Cohesive silicone implants give a firmer feel and can come in more shapes.

Textured liquid implants with a simple round shape often give as good results as shaped cohesive-gel implants.

Polyurethane-coated implants give a firmer consistency. Using these implants can reduce the risk of scar tissue thickening and tightening around the implant.

Is silicone safe?

Many studies have been carried out to find if silicone breast implants are safe. There is no evidence to suggest that women who have silicone breast implants are at a higher risk of getting diseases such as cancer and arthritis. There is a reported link between having an implant and a rare type of cancer called anaplastic large-cell lymphoma. However, the increased risk is very small.
What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes about an hour and a half. 

Your surgeon will usually place the implant directly behind your breast as this gives the most natural result. However, if you do not have enough breast skin and tissue to cover the implant, they may recommend placing the implant behind the pectoral muscle (see figure 1).

Your surgeon will usually place the implant through a cut in the crease under the breast (inframammary fold) and create a pocket to place the implant in.


 Breast Augmentation with implant  Breast Augmentation


Figure 1

a  Implant placed in front of the muscle

b  Implant placed behind the muscle

What complications can happen?

1. General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Minor infection
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots

2.  Specific complications

  • Developing a collection of blood or fluid in the pocket where the implant is
  • Infection of the implant
  • Change of breast and nipple sensation
  • Thickening and tightening of the capsule
  • Kinking and rippling
  • Stiff shoulder
  • Numbness or persistent pain on the outer part of your breast
  • Rupture or deflation of the implant
  • Cosmetic problems

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day or the day after. 

Most women return to normal activities within two to three weeks. You should be able to return to work after the first week, depending on your type of job. You should be able to do a limited amount of activity, such as lifting young children, after about two weeks.

It usually takes a few weeks for your breasts to look and feel more natural. The results of a breast augmentation usually last for a long time. 

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice.


A breast augmentation is a cosmetic operation to make your breasts bigger, and usually to improve their shape. It is only suitable for certain women. You should consider the options carefully and have realistic expectations about the results.


Author: Mr Eoin O’ Broin MD FRCS (Plast) and Miss Kalliope Valassiadou MD, Consultant Breast and General Surgeon 

Illustrations: Mr Eoin O’ Broin MD FRCS (Plast) 

This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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