Breast reduction

Introduction

Female breast reduction, also known as reduction mammoplasty, is a surgical operation to reduce the weight and volume of the breasts. During the procedure, fat, glandular tissue and skin are removed from the breasts, which are then reshaped and the nipples repositioned.

Breast size is determined by genes, hormones, body frame and weight. For most women, breast size is proportionate to the body, but for some, the breasts are particularly large.

Large breasts can cause physical symptoms such as:

  • discomfort
  • backache
  • neck pain
  • skin irritations

Large breasts can also cause psychological distress. Common complaints from women with large breasts include not being able to wear fashionable clothes and finding it difficult to take part in active sports.

Breasts are particularly sensitive to the hormone oestrogen. They can grow particularly large during adolescence or later in life following the menopause or because of the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some women also develop a noticeable asymmetry (difference in size or shape) between their breasts.

Breast reduction surgery can help women who are unhappy with the shape, weight or droop of their breasts by making them smaller and more lifted. However, breast size alters with body weight, so even after surgery, your breasts may increase in size if you put on weight or become pregnant.

Availability on the NHS

Because breast reduction is usually done to improve appearance rather than health, it is not normally available on the NHS.

The NHS will not pay for surgery for cosmetic reasons alone. To receive cosmetic surgery from the NHS, you will normally need a referral from your GP. You will have to have a consultation with a plastic surgeon and possibly an assessment by a psychiatrist or psychologist. They will consider whether there is enough social, psychological or physical benefit to justify surgery, for example if your breasts are causing you significant pain or mental health problems.

Find out more about cosmetic surgery.

Glossary

Genes

Genes contain information that you inherit from your parents, such as eye or hair colour. They are carried by chromosomes.

Tissue

Body tissue is made up of groups of cells that perform a specific job, such as protecting the body against infection, producing movement or storing fat.

Hormone replacement therapy

Hormone replacement therapy or HRT involves giving hormones to women when the menopause starts to replace those that the body no longer produces.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are doctors who treat mental and emotional health conditions, using talking and listening methods.

Obesity

Obesity is when a person has an abnormally high amount of body fat.

Steroids

Steroids are types of chemicals found naturally in the body. They are also produced artificially to treat diseases.

Last updated: 04 October 2011

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