Why medical aid needs to treat breast reduction ops as medical and not cosmetic surgery

Boity Thulo with Dr Bruce Lelala. Picture: Instagram/@boity.

Boity Thulo with Dr Bruce Lelala. Picture: Instagram/@boity.

Published Jul 6, 2023


There is a rise in Black South African women undergoing breast reduction surgery. Most don’t do it because they want to look more attractive or sexy but because of the health issues they face due to big breasts.

One of my followers on Twitter used to complain a lot about back pains caused by big breasts and asked for donations so she could undergo surgery to have her breasts reduced.

One may be wondering why she had to ask for donations instead of claiming it from her medical aid. The truth is, most medical aids don’t cover breast reduction because they see it as a cosmetic surgery and not a health issue.

“Medical aids tend to decline breast reduction procedures because they think it’s about the look, not the function. Most of them will decline and say the patient must go to the gym. Just the other time, I had a patient who had breasts that weigh 8kg.

“So you can imagine telling that person to go to the gym and they’ll lose weight from the breast; that’s impossible," said Dr Bruce Lelala, a plastic surgeon responsible for Boity Thulo’s breast reduction.

Speaking to Relebogile Mabotja on 702, Lelala explained that the most common mistake people made was to thinking breasts could be reduced by going to the gym. This was not the case.

Yes, you can go to the gym to lose weight but your breasts are most likely to remain the same size.

“The bulk of what you have in the breast is the actual breast tissue. When doctors perform breast reduction, they take away a huge bulk of the breast tissue; hence it’s difficult for people to lose their breast by just going to the gym,” said Lelala.

He further explained that it was unknown what caused people to have big breasts that caused back pains. But for some, it was generic.

And because big breasts could cause problems in one's life, breast reduction can be done as early as age 13, because some patients cannot play sports and experience back and neck pains due to big breasts.

Some women go as far as wearing two bras because of big breasts, which is sad because bras are usually uncomfortable. That’s why it’s the first thing you take off when you get home.

In educating people about breast reduction, South African media personality Boity Thulo opened up to her fans about undergoing surgery.

The rapper took to Instagram to share that in February this year, she underwent mastopexy, a breast reduction and lift.

“Four months ago, on the 28th of Feb, I decided to take the plunge and do a procedure that benefited me in more ways than I thought it would. A mastopexy, which is a breast reduction and lift.

“This is a post to thank Dr Bruce not only for his incredible work, but for his care and compassion throughout the healing process; from random calls of me stressing to taking out the time to go the extra mile regardless of what I felt I needed in order to give me peace of mind,” she wrote.

She also thanked her mother and grandmother for caring for her during the healing process.

And while she was fortunate enough to pay for the procedure, most people who need it cannot afford it, even those with medical aids.

Perhaps it’s time to raise awareness for medical aids to start covering breast reduction because, as Dr Lelala said, it’s not just about the looks but the health implications big breasts have on most people.

“Medical aids don’t understand the implications patients have by having weight on their chests. The long-term implications it has on the spine and being on chronic medication impacts their kidney and liver function.

“Patients go into depression and become suicidal, it affects their mental health. So it is a major problem that needs to be addressed.”