Study Reveals 1 in 10 Breast Surgery Patients Loses a Nipple When Treated in Foreign Countries

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We continue to hear about the rise of "cosmetic tourism" and the risks involved—women have even died from plastic surgery complications performed by unqualified "doctors" overseas. One stat we hadn't heard, until now, comes from plastic surgeon and professor Dr. Ash Mosahebi of London, and says more than one in 10 breast patients end up losing a nipple as the result of botched breast surgeries in foreign countries.

As reported on by DailyMail, a study conducted by Dr. Mosahebi and his colleagues, presented this month at the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) annual scientific meeting in London, revealed the types of "injuries suffered at the hands of overseas clinics"—predominantly Turkey, Lithuania and the Czech Republic—including "lifelong deformities to people’s breasts."

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In terms of breast surgery specifically, Dr. Mosahebi said, "Women can lose their nipples as a result of 'poor surgical planning.' If the nipple is not moved properly, it’s then starved of blood and ends up going black and [becoming] infected." 

The study analyzed the results of cosmetic surgeries (most commonly breast enlargement or reduction) performed on women ages 25–60 abroad between 2015 and 2017. Dr. Mosahebi reports that some patients with breast implants ended up developing infections or sepsis, which may have resulted in death, and others required the use of skin grafts to reconstruct the damage caused during the surgery.

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We spoke to two plastic surgeons to find out their insight on the subject. 

Huntington Beach, CA, plastic surgeon Peter Newen, MD, says he believes the "one in 10" stat is possible. "Although it is rare for me to see a total loss of the nipple from a patient treated overseas, it can happen. Breast augmentation involves the placement of a foreign material inside the human body, which can harbor bacteria and cause an infection. Once the implant is infected, there is no possible way for the human body to get rid of the infection. If the infection is allowed to progress, necrosis (death of tissue) can occur, and because many foreign surgeons perform breast augmentations via the areola approach, the infection can lead to necrosis of this nipple area complex. However, in my practice, when patients come to me for correction after undergoing surgery abroad, I more commonly see scar distortion, as well as capsular contracture of breast implants, which is very common too due to the sanitary and technical aspect of the surgery."

According to Chicago plastic surgeon Michael Horn, MD, these "botched" surgeries are the result of poor training and inadequate facilities. "In the U.S., training is assured with board-certification, but in foreign countries, training may not be held to the same standard. Also, foreign operating rooms are not held to the same standards as our certified operating rooms. We certainly see higher amounts of infections and poor results from discounted foreign surgeries. Plastic surgery is not like a haircut. You can't just let it grow out and fix it later."

So whether it's a cheap flight, a cheap surgery or a short waiting time, think twice before getting a procedures performed in a foreign country by a doctor who may be unqualified. "These surgeons may have seen YouTube videos or possibly one or two of these surgeries performed live," says Dr. Newen. "To save money and take a risk on your health in a foreign country where you don’t have a support network, where complications can result in deformities or death, seems unwise. Patients who are entertaining this option should consider the worst-case scenario prior to embarking on this journey."

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