What is the right implant size for you?

Dr. Richard H. Tholen and Dr. Douglas L. Gervais have extensive experience in helping our patients choose implant sizes that are compatible with individual anatomy, while still coming as close as possible to personal goals. Every patient has a “perfect size” in her mind’s eye: all we need to do is figure out what that size is, and whether or not it will match appropriately with the patient’s chest and breast base dimensions, skin and muscle capacity, position of the nipple-areola complex, as well as a host of individual anatomic factors. We start with breast examination, careful measurements (everyone is asymmetrical), and ask you what your goals are. Based on these anatomic factors, we then determine if your requests can be achieved. For most women, the size you choose is not only possible, but perfect for you! If not, we will tell you, and will use our experience and expertise to plan how to best get as close as possible to your ideals.

Remember, you should never have surgery to please someone else, or to try to conform to someone else’s opinion; the same goes for choosing implant size.

One of the best techniques for choosing the size of breast implants is for the patient to bring photographs of models with the desired final breast size to their consultation, or at the time of surgery at our Minneapolis / St. Paul accredited office surgical facility. The proper size implant to most closely achieve this appearance is then chosen in the operating room. (Since we stock all sizes and profiles of saline and silicone gel breast implants in our surgical center, we do not have to “order in advance” and can change based on your choices right up to the time of surgery). Photographic examples have proven to be much more accurate than the patient requesting a letter cup size, or trying to find a similar person who has had breast implants and whose anatomy and/or results approximate your goals. Don’t try to match your height, weight, or preoperative breast appearance to goal photos, and don’t use a stated implant size as a guideline for choosing your implant size—just find an “AFTER” photo you like.

Also, if your breast sizes don’t match (most women have some degree of asymmetry), we can choose different implant sizes and/or profiles to achieve as much symmetry as possible. In more severe cases, we can recommend appropriate procedures (such as breast reduction, breast lift, or other surgical options) to optimize size, shape, and position between mismatched breasts. Implant choices can be made to help camouflage chest wall or other skeletal asymmetries caused by scoliosis, pectus excavatum, tuberous breasts, Poland’s syndrome, or other genetic breast conditions.

Trying on implants in a brassiere is another excellent way to provide some idea of desired final breast size and the implant volume needed to achieve that size; however, it is essential not to become overly attached to a specific bra cup size (B, C, D, etc.) or implant volume (400cc, etc.), since the implant size you like in a bra or top will always look smaller when it is under your own breast tissues and chest muscle. Typically, a woman who chooses a specific cc volume implant that she feels looks good in her bra will be disappointed (too small) after surgery if that exact volume implant is used in her body. This is because submuscular compression of the implants makes them look slightly smaller than when sizing in a bra. A good general rule of thumb is to add 50 to 100cc to the implant volume you feel looks good if you choose to size in a brassiere. In other words, if you like how a 400cc implant looks in a bra, it will take a 450-500cc implant to look about the same size in your body. Final size and profile are chosen in the operating room where your surgeon can actually identify specific characteristics of your skin and muscle tone, chest wall (ribcage) configuration, and accurately measure your pocket diameter, not relying just on estimations of breast base width measured pre-operatively.

In general, for an “average” height and weight woman, 250cc equals about one bra cup size. A 12 ounce can of soda = 360cc. Most patients cannot even see a difference of 50cc (3 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon), which is why implants are manufactured in 30-50cc increments (less than the threshold of visible difference). Thus, 400cc implants will cause an increase of about 1½ cup sizes to whatever breast volume the patient started with!

Since what this surgery accomplishes is increased volume, your own skin brassiere (pre-surgery breast shape) will determine your final breast shape after implants increase your breast size. Size will also determine just how much breast mass extends to the side of the chest (armpit area), or into the cleavage region, since proper implant positioning is determined by the position of your nipple areola complex.

For instance, a woman with widely spaced nipples will need to have her breast implants positioned more laterally (towards the armpit area), since the implant pocket and final breast mound must be properly centered beneath the nipple areola complex. If the implants were simply placed close together in the center to give the full cleavage look, each nipple areola complex would then be positioned too far to the side, giving a “wall-eyed” appearance.

Similarly, a woman who has more medial nipple position would have a “cross-eyed” appearance if she requested lateral fullness and her implants were placed more to the side of the chest without taking into account the nipple position atop the new breast mound.

Our plastic surgeons will, of course, work with you to determine the size and position of your breast implants. Your own anatomy determines shape (unless you also need a breast lift, where incisions are made to lift or otherwise shape your breast skin, or reposition your nipple/areola complexes).

Most women seeking breast implants at our Minneapolis / St. Paul practice emphasize that they do not wish to be “too large” after augmentation. There is a natural hesitancy to make a change that is so dramatic that “everyone will know” or that might embarrass you at the health club, swimming pool, relative’s home, or church meeting. Most patients have these concerns, and many verbalize this. However, 6 to 12 months after surgery, when these concerns evaporate, and the social settings where “someone might notice” are successfully overcome, a surprisingly large number of patients admit they now wish they had chosen larger implants. Some undergo another operation to place new, larger implants. Fortunately, when size change is requested, the surgical pocket for the implant is already healed, and recovery is often easier.

Although the choice of size is entirely up to each individual patient (with some anatomic limitations), choosing just slightly larger than what you consider to be optimal preoperatively will help you to avoid re-operation for size change, including the cost of new implants, operating room, and anesthesia.