Medical Tourism in Aesthetic Breast Surgery: A Systematic Review

Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2021 Aug;45(4):1895-1909. doi: 10.1007/s00266-021-02251-1. Epub 2021 Apr 19.


Introduction: Medical tourism is expanding on a global basis, with patients seeking cosmetic surgery in countries abroad. Little information is known regarding the risks and outcomes of cosmetic tourism, in particular, for aesthetic breast surgery. The majority of the literature involves retrospective case series with no defined comparator. We aimed to amalgamate the published data to date to ascertain the risks involved and the outcomes of cosmetic tourism for aesthetic breast surgery on a global basis.

Methods: A systematic review of PubMed, Google Scholar, EMBASE, the Cochrane library and OVID Medline was conducted using the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-analyses) guidelines. Keywords such as "medical tourism", "cosmetic tourism", "tourism", "tourist", "surgery", "breast" and "outcomes" were used. Seven hundred and seventy-one titles were screened, and 86 abstracts were reviewed leaving 35 full texts. Twenty-four of these met the inclusion criteria and were used to extract data for this systematic review.

Results: One hundred and seventy-one patients partook in cosmetic tourism for aesthetic breast surgery. Forty-nine percent of patients had an implant-based procedure. Other procedures included: mastopexy (n=4), bilateral breast reduction (n=11) and silicone injections (n=2). Two-hundred and twenty-two complications were recorded, common complications included: wound infection in 39% (n=67), breast abscess/ collection in 12% (n=21), wound dehiscence in 12% (n= 20) and ruptured implant in 8% (n=13). Clavien-Dindo classification of the complications includes 88 (51%) IIIb complications with 103 returns to theatre, 2 class IV complications (ICU stay) and one class V death of a patient. Explantation occurred in 39% (n=32) of implant-based augmentation patients.

Conclusions: Aesthetic breast surgery tourism is popular within the cosmetic tourism industry. However, with infective complications (39%) and return to theatre rates (51%) significantly higher than expected, it is clear that having these procedures abroad significantly increases the risks involved. The high complication rate not only impacts individual patients, but also the home country healthcare systems. Professional bodies for cosmetic surgery in each country must highlight and educate patients how to lower this risk if they do choose to have cosmetic surgery abroad. In this current era of an intra-pandemic world where health care is already stretched, the burden from cosmetic tourism complications must be minimised.

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Keywords: Aesthetic surgery; Breast surgery; Medical tourism.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Esthetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammaplasty* / adverse effects
  • Medical Tourism*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surgery, Plastic*
  • Tourism
  • Treatment Outcome