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Large Breasts Can Take Mental, Physical Toll on Teens

Update Date: Jul 16, 2012 01:03 PM EDT

A new study has revealed that teen girls may not like their overly large breasts size after all - with many reporting serious discomfort both physically and emotionally because of their large breasts.

The study claims that the physical and emotional discomforts caused by large breasts are causing teens to opt for breast-reduction surgery.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were more than 63,000 breast-reduction surgeries conducted in the United States in 2011.

Researchers surveyed almost 100 girls between the ages of 12 and 21. All the girls were diagnosed with macromastia - large breasts - by a plastic surgeon at Children's Hospital Boston, but had not had breast surgery. The girls were compared to 103 girls with fairly reasonable breasts size. The girls answered questions about physical functioning and pain, general health, vitality, social functioning, self-esteem, mental health, body image and eating. They also responded to a questionnaire designed specifically for this research that asked about breast-specific issues, such as their cup size, whether they had concerns about their breasts, and if they had ever considered breast surgery.

Brian Labow,  lead the study and said he performs about 100 breast-reduction surgeries a year on adolescent girls and said many unanswered questions lead him to research the topic.

"I wondered, how do you measure the impact of the surgery? And do adolescents benefit by waiting until they're older to get the surgery?" Labow said.

Labow is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a pediatric plastic surgeon at Children's Hospital Boston.

Labow said although girls seeking breast-reduction surgery in adolescence typically do so because they have experienced issues such as neck and shoulder pain, low self-esteem, undesired attention and difficulty finding clothes that fit, it still is difficult to predict who among the big-breasted will be troubled.

"There are people with large breasts who are happy," Labow said.

According to Labow making a diagnosis of macromastia is not simple, since a very short girl wearing a "D" cup size bra may be miserable, while a taller teen may feel fine with that size.

Labow said about 66 percent of adolescents with macromastia are overweight and effective weight reduction typically doesn't resolve the breast-size problem.

Labow said allowing girls who seek breast-reduction surgery to get the procedure in adolescence, rather than making them wait until they are older, may not be a bad thing.

 "They are suffering, Labow said. "If you wait about three years after [a girl's menstrual periods start], the breasts may grow slightly but not enough to necessitate waiting longer."

The surgery could cost an estimated $15,000, but could almost be covered by insurance if classified as reconstructive surgery.

But, the surgery does come with some risks, such as delayed wound healing, scarring and an unsatisfactory outcome. Doctors suggest losing some pounds before undergoing the surgery.

Potential side effects of the surgery include an inability to breast-feed and short-term changes in nipple sensitivity.

The study was published online July 16 in Pediatrics.

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