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Breast enlargement (implants)

Having a breast enlargement is a big decision. It's major surgery, the results are not guaranteed and there are some risks to think about.

During the operation, implants are inserted into your breasts to increase their size, change their shape, or make them more even.

Breast enlargement is often known as a "boob job" or breast augmentation.

You cannot usually get breast enlargement on the NHS

You'll usually have to pay to have breast implants.

There are some circumstances where you might be able to get breast enlargement on the NHS – for example, if you have very uneven breasts or no breasts.

It often depends on the area you live in. Your GP should be able to tell you more about the rules in your area.

How much breast enlargement costs

In the UK, breast implant surgery costs around £3,500 to £8,000. This does not usually include the cost of consultations or follow-up care.

You'll also have to pay for any follow-up surgery you may need in the future.

What to think about before you have a breast enlargement

Before you go ahead, be sure about why you want breast implants. Take time to think about your decision.

Read more about whether cosmetic surgery is right for you. You could also speak to your GP about it.

Choosing a surgeon

If you're having breast enlargement in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to see if the hospital or clinic is registered with them. 

All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC.

Be careful when using the internet to look for doctors and clinics who provide breast enlargement. Some clinics may pay to advertise their services on search listings.

Check the surgeon is registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). They should be listed on the specialist register and have a licence to practise.

Also check the British Association of Plastic Reconstruction and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) to see if the surgeon is a "full member" on the specialist register for plastic surgery.

Always book an appointment to meet the surgeon before the procedure.

You may want to ask your surgeon:

  • about their qualifications and experience
  • how many breast enlargement operations they've performed
  • how many operations they've performed where there have been complications
  • about the type and manufacturer of the implant they use and why
  • about the surgical technique used and the placement of the implants
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • what their patient satisfaction rates are

Read more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure.

Choosing your implants

There are 2 types of implants, made of silicone or saline.

Silicone implants are the most common type used in the UK. They're less likely to wrinkle and feel more natural. However, they can spread into your breast and cause lumps.

Saline implants are more likely to fold, rupture or go down over time. If they do go down or rupture, the saline will safely be absorbed into your body.

You should discuss the pros and cons of each type of breast implant with your surgeon, along with the size and shape of your implants and where they’ll be placed (behind the breast or behind the breast muscle).

How long breast implants last

Breast implants do not last a lifetime. It's likely they'll need to be replaced at some point.

Some women may need further surgery after about 10 years, either because of problems with the implants or because their breasts have changed around the implants.

What a breast enlargement involves

Breast implant surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic.

The operation involves:

  • making a cut (incision) in the skin next to or below the breast
  • positioning the implant – either between your breast tissue and chest muscle, or behind your chest muscle (as discussed during your consultation)
  • stitching the incision and covering it with a dressing

The operation takes between 60 and 90 minutes.

You may be able to go home the same day, but may need to stay in hospital overnight if the operation was scheduled late in the day.

You'll be given pain relief if you experience any discomfort afterwards.

Recovery

You should be able to move around soon after having breast enlargement surgery.

It can take a few weeks to fully recover from surgery, so you should take a week or 2 off work. You should not drive for at least 1 week.

Some surgeons recommend wearing a sports bra 24 hours a day for up to 3 months after breast surgery (check with your surgeon).

Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise for at least a month.

After 1 or 2 weeks: Your stiches will be removed (unless you had dissolvable stitches).

After 6 weeks: You should be able to return to most of your normal activities. Your scars should also start to fade.

After a few months: Your breasts should start to look and feel more natural. You may be able to stop wearing your sports bra.

It's safe to sunbathe and fly if you have breast implants.

What could go wrong

Breast implants can sometimes cause problems, including:

  • thick, obvious scarring
  • the breast tissue feeling hard because scar tissue has shrunk around the implant (capsular contracture)
  • a ruptured implant – this may cause small tender lumps (siliconomas), which are only noticable on breast scans; the implant will need to be removed
  • creases or folds in the implant
  • the implant rotating within the breast, resulting in an abnormal shape
  • rippling of the implant – this happens when the implant is only covered by a thin layer of tissue, which sticks to the surface of the implant and is very difficult to treat
  • nerve problems in the nipples – they may become more sensitive, less sensitive, or completely numb; this can be temporary or permanent
  • not being able to breastfeed or producing slightly less breast milk than you would without implants – your baby will not be harmed if you breastfeed with implants

Also, any type of operation carries a small risk of:

  • bleeding
  • infection – this is rare, but may mean the implant needs to be removed
  • an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic
  • a blood clot forming in the deep veins

You should also be aware of a possible link between breast implants and a rare type of immune system cell cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

A very small number of women who've had breast implants have developed ALCL in the scar tissue around their breast implants.

GOV.UK has more information about breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

Your surgeon should explain how likely all these risks and complications are, and how they would be treated if you have them.

Breast cancer screening (mammogram) after implants

It's safe to have breast cancer screening (mammogram). It does not cause the implant to rupture.

Tell the person doing your mammogram if you have breast implants. X-rays cannot pass through implants, so they might do the mammogram a different way so that as much breast tissue as possible can be seen.

What to do if you have problems

Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

Contact the clinic where you had the operation as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms, such as red skin, burning, or unusual swelling on or around your breast.

You can report problems with your breast implants through the government's Yellow Card Scheme. By reporting any issues, you're helping provide more information about the safety of the implants.

If you're not happy with the results or think the procedure was not carried out properly, speak to your surgeon at the hospital or clinic where you were treated.

You can contact the Care Quality Commission (CQC) if you have concerns about your care. If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).

The Royal College of Surgeons also has more information and advice about what to do if things go wrong.

Breast implant registry

Everyone who has breast enlargement surgery can register their implant surgery. This is so people can be traced if there's a safety concern about a type of implant.

The registry was started after the 2010 PIP implant scandal when people could not find out if they had faulty implants.

Talk to your surgeon if you want data about your implants to be stored.

Find out more about the registry.

Page last reviewed: 22 July 2019
Next review due: 22 July 2022