Breast Augmentation – Are the risks of overseas surgery worth it?

Is overseas surgery worth it?
Dr Ross Farhadieh
Dr Ross Farhadieh

It is estimated that 15,000 Australians travel overseas for their cosmetic surgery procedures, spending approximately $300 million per year. This is a booming business. However, unfortunately many of these end up in the Emergency department back in Australia with complications, more often than not relating to breast augmentations and implants. Breast augmentation is one of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon Dr Ross Farhadieh’s areas of special interest and expertise and his dual plane technique gets excellent results for women who fly to him from all over the country. He has recently authored a chapter on breast augmentation surgery in the latest Plastic Surgery international reference textbook. He chats to us about techniques, patients travelling overseas and things patients should be aware of.

There are several approaches to breast implant surgery. Broadly speaking the implants can be placed under the breast tissues or under the muscle. A more nuanced technique allows partial placement under both, the dual plane technique. This technique is becoming one of the more popular. However, Dr Farhadieh warns of surgeons overseas offering breast augmentation surgery that they may not be completely skilled at, but offer because of their growing popularity and perceived financial incentives.

Dr Farhadieh recently wrote an article for The Sydney Morning Herald on the dangers of having your breast augmentation overseas. “I have had women come to see me after going to Thailand and they have no idea what implant has been put inside them, plus the size is wrong and it’s lopsided,” he says. “There is also no follow-up after the surgery, which means that recovery times can be a lot longer than necessary.”

So, what are the things that can go wrong with having your breast augmentation in a foreign country?

Breast augmentation by Dr Ross Farhadieh
Breast augmentation by Dr Ross Farhadieh


Infection is one of the biggest causes for concern, with overseas operating theatres and clinics not offering the same standard of care and quality controlled environments that Australia has. This can be especially relevant when you are travelling to a tropical environment where infections tend to be harder to manage and avoid without appropriate medical safety procedures in place. Implant infection risk is may be much higher in these types of environments.

Quality of Implants

Another thing you can’t be sure about are the quality of the products, devices and equipment used in foreign countries. The quality of implants used in a breast augmentation procedure is extremely important, and this has been well proven and documented in recent months with the link between breast implants and a rare form of cancer (ALCL) may be due to implant infection. Breast implants in Australia have a rigorous approval process through the Therapeutic Goods Association, whereas implants in South East Asia are not required to meet such standards.

Experience and Training of Surgeon

Perhaps the biggest worry about overseas surgery is the experience and training of the surgeon performing your procedure. Dr Farhadieh agrees. “In Australia, to become a plastic surgeon, it takes around 10 years of formal education and training. Not everybody undergoes this process overseas, so the vast majority of cosmetic operators in developing countries don’t have the same high level of formal training.”

There’s been cases of foreign materials and surgical equipment being left inside a patient after they’ve been stitched up, “tester” implants or mismatched implants including size and shape inserted, as well as other horrific stories of overseas surgeons botching operations. Unfortunately, it’s often left to our surgeons back home in Australia to do the revision surgery, and this is much more common than what you might think or like to imagine.

Is the surgeon’s support team qualified?

You also need to be aware of who is in the foreign surgeon’s support team. Does he have a fully qualified anaesthetist? Dr Farhadieh says this is a scary reality. “The operating theatre should have an anaesthetist, as opposed to somebody who just gives you some drugs, which is often the case overseas, or even in less reputable clinics in Australia.”

Breast augmentation by Dr Ross Farhadieh
Breast augmentation by Dr Ross Farhadieh

All surgery has risks – minimise yours

No matter where you have your surgery there are risks, and complications do occur. The problem with having complications occur in a foreign country is that there are not laws in place to safeguard patients like there is in Australia. Overseas surgeons do not always accept responsibility or have any liability to fix things that go wrong. You are often also left to handle the recovery on your own. The recovery period is almost as important to the outcome of a procedure as the procedure itself. Being able to access your surgeon and ask questions or have follow up appointments is an essential part of the process. Dr Farhadieh says, “If there are postoperative complications, Australian surgeons are available to help and can take any anxiety the patient may be having off their shoulders.”

You might think that having your cosmetic procedure done overseas will save you money, however the number of patients that need revisions and corrections back home in Australia is much higher than it should be. Australian surgeons and our plastic surgery practices are renowned throughout the world as being some of the best, and there’s reasons why this is the case. Dr Farhadieh says, “Plastic surgery in Australia is generally more expensive for a reason. Many people are driven by the bottom line, but surgery costs more here because you are receiving a higher level of care that ensure your welfare in the long term. Your body is your only permanent asset in life and the safest hands are the best trained hands.”

Ultimately, the decision is yours to make, however you really should consider whether you are willing to increase your risk to save a few dollars.

Dr Ross Farhadieh also offers free breast reconstructions to women who have had cancer. Read more about that here.

If you’d like more information or to arrange a consultation with Dr Ross Farhadieh phone 1300 03 03 71, or to find a fully qualified and experienced surgeon near you check out our directory. To read some more about overseas surgery including some real life horror stories, check out the blogs below:

Dangers of Overseas Surgery
Trouble in Paradise – a real story to remind you of the issues in being lured overseas for your surgery
My Nightmare in Thailand

Further Reading Related to Breast Augmentation