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New Liposuction Technique Faster, Less Invasive


Improvements in technology have streamlined the procedure to let doctors take out more fat per minute than with older methods, to increase surgical precision in locating the fat, and to reduce recovery times.

And a surprising side effect of the new procedure is that approximately one-third of the women patients in a study who had liposuction on their stomachs, hips and thighs found their breasts became firmer and increased in size as much as one cup.

"We found faster recovery, fewer complications, less need for touchups, and in some patients, an increase in breast size," said Dr. Bruce Katz, a New York City dermatologist who has co-authored two studies on liposuction and whose next study, documenting the increase in breast size, will be published February in the journal Dermatologic Surgery.

Katz made his remarks last week in New York City at a conference sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology that focused on the latest research in dermatologic treatments for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

The new liposuction procedure, called power liposuction, has been available for about three years, Katz said. It features an electronically powered, thin stainless steel suction instrument, called a canula, that is surgically inserted under the skin and vacuums unwanted fat from different parts of the body.

The advantage to the instrument is that it moves evenly and quickly and with more precision than earlier liposuction tools. As a result, the procedure causes "less swelling and bruising and the recovery is over in a week, with no more black and blue marks," he says.

Patients, too, seem to prefer power liposuction. In one study of 50 people who had the procedure, 54 percent preferred the power liposuction, 46 percent had no preference, and no patient preferred the previous technique.

The surprising side effect of increased breast size happened to 34 percent of the women who had liposuction on their hips, thighs or abdomen, Katz reported.

The explanation, he said, may lie with the fact that there are two kinds of fat cell receptors in the body, one estrogen-based, the other androgen-based. Women have more androgen-based fat cell receptors in their stomach, hips and thighs, and when those are removed, there's some compensatory, re-balancing of fats cells in the body that results in a relative increase in estrogen-based fat cells. The phenomenon did not occur in men who had liposuction, Katz said.

Liposuction is the most common cosmetic surgery in the United States, with nearly 200,000 procedures performed in 2001, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Dermatologists perform about one-third of the liposuctions done each year. The bulk of the remainder are performed by plastic surgeons, although gynecologists and internists also handle the procedure, Katz said.

More men are beginning to request liposuction. Five years ago, the percentage of women-to-men who underwent liposuction was 80 to 20; now about 35 percent of his patients are men, Katz said.

"They hear about the new technology, realize how fast the recovery time is, that they can do it on a Friday and be back at work on Monday," he said.

Dr. Roger I. Ceilley, a dermatology professor at the University of Iowa who also participated in the conference, concurred.

"Men come in for another reason, like a rash," he said. "They often introduce a different topic, but get around to it eventually."

Katz said liposuction isn't for everyone. It is not a substitute for diet and exercise. Rather, it's intended for healthy, fit people who have fat pockets that diet and exercise can't reduce, he said.

"For people who are the right candidates, it's a good result," he said.