The world of breast surgery does not need to be complicated. This short glossary will introduce terms, procedures and ideas to help a woman plan for and undergo breast surgery.

Anesthesia: The application of drugs to produce loss of feeling or unconsciousness during breast surgery. This includes these options:

  • General anesthesia: The most common choice of anesthesia in breast implant surgery, which produces complete unconsciousness throughout the procedure.
  • Local anesthesia: An injection of anesthesia that numbs the immediate area of incision or surgery.
  • Regional anesthesia: A nerve block that produces numbness in a “region” of the body.
  • Sedation: An injection that numbs pain and fogs awareness but does not produce unconsciousness. 

Breast augmentation: Also referred to as augmentation mammoplasty, the enlargement or reshaping of the breast through surgery, most often by inserting an implant.

Breast-conserving surgery: A surgery performed on women with breast cancer that is much less radical or complete than mastectomy.

Breast implants: A shell of silicone filled with saline or silicone, meant to enlarge or reshape the breast.

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Breast lift: Also referred to as mastoplexy, this surgery lifts or reshapes the breasts without using implants.

Breast pocket: Before breast augmentation surgery, the surgeon creates this space, or “pocket,” in which to place the implant.

Breast reconstruction: A surgery to reconstruct the breast due to mastectomy or breast deformity. Any number of techniques may be used to do so, including using a woman’s own tissue or breast implants.

Breast reduction: Also referred to as reduction mammoplasty, this surgery reduces the size or lift of the breasts through surgery, often by removing excess breast tissue and repositioning the areola and nipple. It can be performed for cosmetic reasons or for physical relief, such as back pain.

Complications: The side effects of breast surgery, some of which may necessitate further surgery or procedures to correct. They include the following:

  • Calcium deposits: When a thin layer of calcium forms upon the scar tissue around a breast implant.
  • Capsular contracture: When normally occurring scar tissue around a breast implant becomes firm, squeezing the implant.
  • Bottoming out: When a breast implant is placed too low on the breast, causing the nipples to appear too high.
  • Deflation/rupture: When a breast implant leaks, often noticed because the breast will change in size or shape.
  • Displacement: When a breast implant changes position.
  • Extrusion: A rare complication when a breast implant moves through the skin, often at the location of a scar or dead tissue.  
  • Hematoma: A bruise, caused by blood pooling beneath the skin.
  • Necrosis: A rare complication when dead tissue surrounds the implant.
  • Rippling: When breast implants move within the breast, causing a ripple effect.
  • Seroma: When fluid gathers around the breast implant or around the incision. 

Flap techniques: These surgical techniques use a woman’s own tissue to reconstruct her breast. The most common techniques include:

  • The DIEP (deep inferior epigastric perforators) flap technique, which uses tissue from the lower abdomen.
  • The latissimus dorsi flap technique, which uses tissue from the back.
  • The transverse rectus abdominus musculocutaneous (TRAM) flap technique, which uses tissue from the abdomen.

Incision location: One of many locations by which implants are inserted into the breast. They include:

  • The armpit (transaxillary) incision, made where the breast meets the armpit
  • The crease (inframammary fold) incision, where the breast meets the chest
  • The nipple (peri-areolar) incision, around the perimeter of the areola
  • The TUBA (Transumbilical Breast Augmentation) incision, made around the rim of the belly button

Lumpectomy: This is the most common surgery for breast cancer, removing a small cancerous portion of the breast.

Mammogram: Used for diagnosis of cancer, this medical procedure is an x-ray of the breast. The FDA approves of and recommends mammograms regularly for cancer screening.

Mastectomy: This surgery removes the breast, most often to remove cancer from the body and sometimes to prevent cancer.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Much like an x-ray, this procedure allows views of internal tissue. Surgeons suggest regular MRIs to identify silent ruptures of silicone breast implants.

Pectoralis major: Also referred to as “pecs,” the chest muscle that underlies the breasts and allows arm movement.

Placement: Refers to the particular placement of a breast implant within the breast, including the following placements:

  • Subglandular placement: Sometimes referred to as the “overs,” this is when the implant is placed in front of the pectoralis major muscle but behind the mammary gland.
  • Submuscular placement: Sometimes referred to as the “complete unders,” this is when the implant is placed behind the pectoralis major muscle.
  • Subpectoral placement: Sometimes referred to as the “partial unders,” this is when the implant is placed within the pectoralis major muscle, behind the first third of the muscle. There is a variant of the subpectoral placement called the subfascial placement, when the implant is placed behind the fascia (band of connective tissue around the edge of the muscle) of the pectoralis major.

Saline implants: Breast implants made of a silicone shell filled with a salt-water solution.

Scar capsule: The scar tissue that forms around a foreign object within the body. A capsule will usually form around a breast implant.

Silicone implants: Breast implants made of a silicone shell filled with an elastic gel solution.

Tissue expander / tissue expansion process: A process by which a tissue expander, gradually filled with saline, is placed within the breast prior to reconstruction in order to make room for a breast implant.

Ultrasound: This medical procedure uses high-frequency sound waves projected into the body. The echoes of the sound waves can be translated into pictures of the body’s internal organs. 

Information gathered from breast augmentation and reconstruction websites, including: National Research Center for Women and Families, the Mayo Clinic, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Cancer Society, and Susan G. Komen For the Cure.