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MP 7.01.21 Reduction Mammaplasty for Breast-Related Symptoms

Medical Policy    
Original Policy Date
Last Review Status/Date
Reviewed with literature search/11:2012
  Return to Medical Policy Index


Our medical policies are designed for informational purposes only and are not an authorization, or an explanation of benefits, or a contract.  Receipt of benefits is subject to satisfaction of all terms and conditions of the coverage.  Medical technology is constantly changing, and we reserve the right to review and update our policies periodically.



Reduction mammaplasty is a surgical procedure designed to remove a variable proportion of breast tissue.

Macromastia, or gigantomastia, is an ill-defined term that describes breast hyperplasia or hypertrophy. Macromastia may result in clinical symptoms such as shoulder, neck, or back pain, or recurrent intertrigo in the mammary folds. In addition, macromastia may be associated with psychosocial or emotional disturbances related to the large breast size. Reduction mammaplasty is a surgical procedure designed to remove a variable proportion of breast tissue to address emotional and psychosocial issues and/or relieve the associated clinical symptoms.




Reduction mammaplasty may be considered medically necessary for the treatment of macromastia when well-documented clinical symptoms are present, including but not limited to:

  • Documentation of a minimum 6-week history of shoulder, neck, or back pain related to macromastia that is not responsive to conservative therapy, such as an appropriate support bra, exercises, heat/cold treatment, and appropriate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents/muscle relaxants
  • Recurrent or chronic intertrigo between the pendulous breast and the chest wall.


Policy Guidelines


The presence of shoulder, neck, or back pain is the most common stated medical rationale for reduction mammaplasty. However, since this symptom is entirely subjective, Blue Cross of Idaho uses the following patient selection criteria designed to be more objective in nature. These have included:

  • Use of photographs, providing a visual documentation of breast size, or documenting the presence of shoulder grooving, an indication that the breast weight results in grooving of the bra straps on the shoulder.
  • Requirement of a specified amount of breast tissue to be resected, commonly 500–600 g per breast
  • Use of the Schnur sliding scale, which suggests a minimum amount of breast tissue to be removed for the procedure to be considered medically necessary, based on the patient’s body surface area. (See Rationale section for further discussion.) (Some plans may use the Schnur sliding scale only for weight of resected tissue that falls below 500–600 g.)
  • Consider that patients who are not within 20% of ideal body weight may have obesity that is contributing to the symptoms of neck and back pain.


Benefit Application


BlueCard/National Account Issues

Medical policies regarding reduction mammaplasty have focused on the distinction between a cosmetic procedure, performed primarily to improve the appearance of the breast, or a medically necessary procedure, performed primarily to relieve documented clinical symptoms. It should be noted that the emotional and psychosocial distress associated with body appearance does not constitute a medical rationale for reduction mammaplasty, and thus these indications would be considered cosmetic in nature.

Determinations of whether a proposed therapy would be considered reconstructive or cosmetic should always be interpreted in the context of the specific benefits language. State or federal mandates may also dictate coverage decisions.

The requirement of the presence of a functional impairment as a coverage criterion for a specific etiology may vary from Plan to Plan. It should be noted that, in general, the presence of a functional impairment would render its treatment medically necessary and thus not subject to contractual definitions of reconstructive or cosmetic.



This policy was originally created in 1995 and was updated with searches of the MEDLINE database. The most recent literature search was performed for the period of September 2011 through September 2012. The following is a summary of the key findings to date.

While the literature search identified many articles that discuss the surgical technique of reduction mammaplasty and document that reduction mammaplasty is associated with a relief of physical and psychosocial symptoms, (1-9) the medical policy has always focused on the distinction of whether the proposed reduction mammaplasty is medically necessary or cosmetic in nature. For some patients the presence of medical indications is clear-cut, i.e., a clear documentation of recurrent intertrigo, or ulceration secondary to shoulder grooving. However, for the majority of patients, the documentation between a cosmetic and medically necessary procedure will be unclear and subjective in nature. Criteria for medically necessary reduction mammaplasty are not well addressed in the published medical literature, and thus the optimal patient selection criteria cannot rely on an evidence-based approach. Therefore, the policy guidelines do not endorse a particular set of patient selection criteria, i.e., the use of photographs, amount of breast tissue removed, or a combination of approaches.

Breast Weight

The following discussion focuses the published literature addressing the use of weight of excised breast as coverage criteria. In 2001, Krieger and Lesavoy reported on a survey of managed care policies regarding reduction mammaplasty. (10) Most of the respondents to the survey stated that they use weight of excised tissue as the main criterion for allowing the procedure. The average cut-off value for this determination was 472 g. While 500 g appears to be a commonly cited cut-off weight of excised tissue, there appears to be no documentation in the literature as to the sensitivity and specificity of this value in distinguishing cosmetic from medically necessary procedures. (11) Also, the use of a single weight cut-off does not address the issue of the relationship between body surface area and weight of excised tissue. In 1991, Schnur and colleagues, at the request of third-party payers, developed a sliding scale. (11) This sliding scale was based on survey responses of 92 of 200 solicited plastic surgeons, who reported the height, weight, and amount of breast tissue removed from each breast from the last 15 to 20 reduction mammaplasties that had been performed. The surgeons were also asked if the procedures were performed for cosmetic or medically necessary reasons. The data were then used to create a chart relating the body surface area and the cut-off weight of breast tissue removed according to the 5th percentile and 22nd percentile lines. Based on their estimates, those with breast weight above the 22nd percentile line likely had the procedure performed for medical reasons, while those below the 5th percentile line likely had the procedure performed for cosmetic reasons, and those falling between the lines had the procedure formed for mixed reasons. (See Appendix for the Schnur Sliding Scale.)

In 1999, Schnur reviewed the experience of the sliding scale as a coverage criterion and reported that while many payers had adopted this scale, many had also misused it. (12) The author pointed out that if a payer uses weight of resected tissue as a coverage criterion, then if the weight falls below the 5th percentile line, the reduction mammaplasty would be considered cosmetic, above the 22nd percentile line would be considered medically necessary, and those that fell between these lines would be considered on a case-by-case basis. The author also questions the frequent requirement that a woman be within 20% of her ideal body weight. While weight loss might indeed relieve symptoms, durable weight loss is notoriously difficult and may be unrealistic in many cases. However, in 2003, Platt and colleagues reported on a prospective study of 30 women which found wound breakdown was significantly greater in women with a body mass index (BMI) of 26.3 or greater (33%) compared to BMI of less than 26.3 (10%). (13) Delayed healing was also associated with high BMI.

In 2012, Gonzalez and colleagues reported on 178 patients who had breast reduction surgery primarily for symptomatic macromastia. Patients completed the Breast Q questionnaire once after surgery, and retrospective chart reviews were completed to assess patient outcomes and determine whether any correlation exists between outcomes and patient size or amount of breast tissue removed. (14) Most patients responded to the surgery with satisfaction with a mean response on the Breast Q questionnaire of 2.8 (2, somewhat agree; 3, definitely agree). The mean BMI of patients was 28.3 kg/m and correlated significantly with the amount of breast tissue removed (p<0.0001). The mean amount of breast tissue removed was 1,220.9 g but did not correlate significantly with patient quality-of-life responses (p=0.57).

Functional Impairment

Singh and Losken, in 2012, reported on a systematic review of studies reporting outcomes after reduction mammaplasty. (15) The reviewers found reduction mammaplasty improves functional outcomes including pain, breathing, sleep, and headaches. Additional psychological outcomes noted in the review include improvements in self-esteem, sexual function, and quality of life.

In 2002, Kerrigan et al. published the results of the BRAVO (Breast Reduction: Assessment of Value and Outcomes) study, a registry of 179 women undergoing reduction mammaplasty. (16) Women were asked to complete quality-of-life questionnaires and a physical symptom count both before and after surgery. The physical symptom count focused on the number of symptoms present that were specific to breast hypertrophy and included upper back pain, rashes, bra strap grooves, neck pain, shoulder pain, numbness, and arm pain. In addition, the weight and volume of resected tissue were recorded. Results were compared to a control group of patients with breast hypertrophy, defined as size DD bra cup, and normal-sized breasts, who were recruited from the general population. The authors propose that the presence of 2 physical symptoms might be an appropriate cut-off for determining medical necessity for breast reduction. For example, while 71.6% of the hypertrophic controls reported none or one symptom, only 12.4% of those considered surgical candidates reported none or one symptom. This observation is difficult to evaluate because the study does not report how surgical candidacy was determined. The authors also reported that none of the traditional criteria for determining medical necessity for breast reduction surgery (height, weight, body mass index, bra cup size, or weight of resected breast tissue) had a statistically significant relationship with outcome improvement. The authors conclude that the determination of medical necessity should be based on patients’ self reports of symptoms rather than more objectively measured criteria, such as weight of excised breast tissue.

In 2008, Sabino Neto et al, reported on a study to assess functional capacity in which 100 patients, ages 18-55 years, were randomized to receive reduction mammaplasty or be placed on a waiting list to serve as a control group. (7) Patient exclusion criteria included body mass index greater than 30 kg/m², asymmetry in mammary hypertrophy, chronic disease, smoking, or daily medication use. Forty-six patients from each group completed the study. At the onset of the study and 6 months later, patients were assessed for functional capacity using the Roland-Morris instrument (0=best performance, 24=worst performance) and for pain using a visual analog scale (VAS). The reduction mammaplasty group showed improvement in functional status with an average score of 5.9 preoperatively to 1.2 within 6 months postoperatively (p<0.001 for pre- post-comparison within the mammaplasty group) versus an unchanged average score of 6.2 in the control group on the first and second evaluations. Additionally, pain in the lower back region decreased on VAS from an average of 5.7 preoperatively to 1.3 postoperatively (p<0.001 for pre- post-comparison within mammaplasty group) versus VAS average scores in the control group of 6.0 and 5.3 on the first and second evaluations, respectively (no significant change). Three patients did not report any improvement in low back pain after surgery. The authors noted a need for exercise programs after surgery to improve posture malpositions developed after years of mammary hypertrophy.

Also in 2008, Saariniemi and colleagues reported on a study to assess quality of life and pain in which 82 patients were randomized to reduction mammaplasty or a nonoperative group in which patients were evaluated at the onset of the study and 6 months later. (9) The authors reported the mammaplasty group had significant improvements in quality of life, as measured by the physical summary score of the Short Form (SF)-36 quality-of-life questionnaire (change of +9.7 vs. +0.7, p<0.0001), the utility index score (SF-6D) (+17.5 vs. +0.6)., the index score of quality of life (SF-15D) (+8.6 vs. +0.06, p<0.0001), and the SF-36 mental summary score (+7.8 vs. -1.0, p<0.002). There were also improvements in breast-related symptoms, as measured by the Finnish Breast-Associated Symptoms questionnaire score (-47.9 vs. -3.5, p<0.0001), and the Finnish Pain Questionnaire score (-21.5 vs. -1.0, p<0.0001).

Iwuagwu et al. reported on 73 patients randomized to receive reduction mammaplasty within 6 weeks or after a 6-month waiting period to assess lung function. (8) All patients had symptoms related to macromastia. Postoperative lung function correlated with the weight of breast tissue removed, but there were no significant improvements in any lung function parameters for the mammaplasty group compared to control. This is in contrast to previous studies, such as Cunha et al. who reported improvements in lung function after reduction mammaplasty in 12 patients followed prospectively in a cohort study. (17) Arterial blood gases did not differ significantly pre- or postoperatively,


Thibaudeau and colleagues, in 2010, conducted a systematic review to evaluate breastfeeding after reduction mammaplasty. (18) After a review of literature from 1950 through December 2008, the authors concluded reduction mammaplasty does not reduce the ability to breastfeed. In women who have had reduction mammaplasty, breastfeeding was found to be comparable for the first month postpartum in the general population in North America.

In 2011, Chen and colleagues reported on a review of claims data to compare complication rates after breast surgery in 2,403 obese and 5,597 nonobese patients. (19) Of these patients, breast reduction was performed in 1,939 (80.7%) in the study group and 3,569 (63.8%) in the control group. Obese patients had significantly more claims for complications within 30 days after breast reduction surgery than nonobese patients (14.6% vs. 1.7%, respectively, p<0.001). Complications included inflammation, infection, pain and seroma/hematoma development. Also in 2011, Shermak et al. reported on a review of claims data to compare complication rates in relation to age after breast reduction surgery in 1,192 patients. (20) Infection occurred more frequently in patients older than 50 years of age [odds ratio (OR): 2.7; p=0.003]. Additionally, women older than 50 years also experienced more wound healing problems (OR: 1.6; p=0.09) and reoperative wound debridement (OR: 5.1; p=0.07).

Ongoing Clinical Trials

A search of online site in October 2012 identified one active randomized study of 60 patients to evaluate patient satisfaction, sexuality and physical activity outcomes after reduction mammaplasty. (NCT01297621). This study is expected to be completed in May 2013. No clinical trials were identified that addressed functional outcomes for reduction mammaplasty.


Reduction mammaplasty is a surgical procedure designed to remove a variable proportion of breast tissue. The available evidence from randomized controlled and prospective studies indicates that reduction mammaplasty is effective at decreasing breast-related symptoms such as pain and discomfort. There is also evidence that functional limitations related to breast hypertrophy are improved following reduction mammaplasty. Therefore, the available evidence for reduction mammaplasty is sufficient to demonstrate improvements in net health outcomes. Reduction mammaplasty may be considered medically necessary in patients with macromastia, who have a minimum 6-week history of shoulder, neck, or back pain that is not responsive to conservative therapy, and not caused by any other identifiable condition. Reduction mammaplasty may also be considered medically necessary in patients with recurrent or chronic intertrigo between the pendulous breast and the chest wall.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) issued practice guidelines and a companion document on criteria for third-party payors for reduction mammaplasty. (21-23) The ASPS indicates level I evidence has shown reduction mammaplasty is effective in treating symptomatic breast hypertrophy which “is defined as a syndrome of persistent neck and shoulder pain, painful shoulder grooving from brassiere straps, chronic intertriginous rash of the inframammary fold, and frequent episodes of headache, backache, and neuropathies caused by heavy breasts caused by an increase in the volume and weight of breast tissue beyond normal proportions.” The ASPS also indicates volume or weight of breast tissue resection should not be criteria for reduction mammaplasty. If 2 or more symptoms are present all or most of the time, reduction mammaplasty is appropriate.

Medicare National Coverage

No national coverage determination.



    1. Dabbah A, Lehman JA, Jr., Parker MG et al. Reduction mammaplasty: an outcome analysis. Ann Plast Surg 1995; 35(4):337-41.
    2. Schnur PL, Schnur DP, Petty PM et al. Reduction mammaplasty: an outcome study. Plast Reconstr Surg 1997; 100(4):875-83.
    3. Hidalgo DA, Elliot LF, Palumbo S et al. Current trends in breast reduction. Plast Reconstr Surg 1999; 104(3):806-15; quiz 16; discussion 17-8.
    4. Glatt BS, Sarwer DB, O'Hara DE et al. A retrospective study of changes in physical symptoms and body image after reduction mammaplasty. Plast Reconstr Surg 1999; 103(1):76-82; discussion 83-5.
    5. Collins ED, Kerrigan CL, Kim M et al. The effectiveness of surgical and nonsurgical interventions in relieving the symptoms of macromastia. Plast Reconstr Surg 2002; 109(5):1556-66.
    6. Iwuagwu OC, Walker LG, Stanley PW et al. Randomized clinical trial examining psychosocial and quality of life benefits of bilateral breast reduction surgery. Br J Surg 2006; 93(3):291-4.
    7. Sabino Neto M, Dematte MF, Freire M et al. Self-esteem and functional capacity outcomes following reduction mammaplasty. Aesthet Surg J 2008; 28(4):417-20.
    8. Iwuagwu OC, Platt AJ, Stanley PW et al. Does reduction mammaplasty improve lung function test in women with macromastia? Results of a randomized controlled trial. Plast Reconstr Surg 2006; 118(1):1-6; discussion 7.
    9. Saariniemi KM, Keranen UH, Salminen-Peltola PK et al. Reduction mammaplasty is effective treatment according to two quality of life instruments. A prospective randomised clinical trial. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg 2008; 61(12):1472-8.
    10. Krieger LM, Lesavoy MA. Managed care's methods for determining coverage of plastic surgery procedures: the example of reduction mammaplasty. Plast Reconstr Surg 2001; 107(5):1234-40.
    11. Schnur PL, Hoehn JG, Ilstrup DM et al. Reduction mammaplasty: cosmetic or reconstructive procedure? Ann Plast Surg 1991; 27(3):232-7.
    12. Schnur PL. Reduction mammaplasty-the schnur sliding scale revisited. Ann Plast Surg 1999; 42(1):107-8.
    13. Platt AJ, Mohan D, Baguley P. The effect of body mass index and wound irrigation on outcome after bilateral breast reduction. Ann Plast Surg 2003; 51(6):552-5.
    14. Gonzalez MA, Glickman LT, Aladegbami B et al. Quality of life after breast reduction surgery: a 10-year retrospective analysis using the breast q questionnaire: does breast size matter? Ann Plast Surg 2012; 69(4):361-3.
    15. Singh KA, Losken A. Additional benefits of reduction mammaplasty: a systematic review of the literature. Plast Reconstr Surg 2012; 129(3):562-70.
    16. Kerrigan CL, Collins ED, Kim HM et al. Reduction mammaplasty: defining medical necessity. Med Decis Making 2002; 22(3):208-17.
    17. Cunha MS, Santos LL, Viana AA et al. Evaluation of pulmonary function in patients submitted to reduction mammaplasty. Rev Col Bras Cir 2011; 38(1):11-4.
    18. Thibaudeau S, Sinno H, Williams B. The effects of breast reduction on successful breastfeeding: a systematic review. J Plast Reconstr Aesthet Surg 2010; 63(10):1688-93.
    19. Chen CL, Shore AD, Johns R et al. The impact of obesity on breast surgery complications. Plast Reconstr Surg 2011; 128(5):395e-402e.
    20. Shermak MA, Chang D, Buretta K et al. Increasing age impairs outcomes in breast reduction surgery. Plast Reconstr Surg 2011; 128(6):1182-7.
    21. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Reduction Mammaplasty: ASPS Recommended Insurance Coverage Criteria for Third-Party Payers. 2011. Available online at: Last accessed October, 2012.
    22. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Evidence-based Clinical Practice Guideline: Reduction Mammaplasty. Available online at: Last accessed October, 2012.
    23. Kalliainen LK. ASPS Clinical Practice Guideline Summary on Reduction Mammaplasty. Plast Reconstr Surg 2012; 130(4):785-9.






Reduction mammaplasty 

ICD-9 Procedure 


Reduction mammaplasty, unilateral 



Reduction mammaplasty, bilateral 

ICD-9 Diagnosis 


Hypertrophy of breast 



Chronic ulcer of other specified site 



Pain in joint, shoulder 



Backache, unspecified 

HCPCS No Code  
ICD-10-CM (effective 10/1/14)  N62 Hypertrophy of breast  
   L98.491 Non-pressure chronic ulcer of skin of other sites limited to breakdown of skin  
   M25.511 – M25.519 Pain in shoulder; code range  
   M54.89 – M54.9 Dorsalgia; code range  
ICD-10-PCS (effective 10/1/14)    ICD-10-PCS codes are only used for inpatient services. There is no specific ICD-10-PCS code for this procedure.  
   0HBT0ZZ  Excision of Right Breast, Open Approach  
   0HBT3ZZ   Excision of Right Breast, Percutaneous Approach  
   0HBU0ZZ  Excision of Left Breast, Open Approach  
   0HBU3ZZ Excision of Left Breast, Percutaneous Approach 


No Code 


Type of Service 


Place of Service 




Breast reduction
Reduction mammaplasty

Policy History

Date Action Reason
12/1/95 Add policy New policy
10/08/02 Replace policy Policy revised and updated; more detailed discussion on criteria used to distinguish medically necessary from cosmetic procedures
12/17/03 Replace policy Policy reviewed with literature search; no change in policy statement; additional references added.
11/10/11 Replace policy Policy reviewed with literature search. Policy statement changed to indicate intertrigo must be recurrent or chronic. References 6-9, 13 and 15-18 added.
11/8/12 Replace Policy Policy reviewed with literature search; policy statements unchanged; additional references 14, 19-20 and 23 added.





Schnur Sliding Scale  
   Breast Weight (g) 
Body Surface Area (in meters squared)*  Lower 5%  Lower 22% 
1.35  127  199 
1.40  139  218 
1.45  152  238 
1.50  166  260 
1.55  181  284 
1.60  198  310 
1.65  216  338 
1.70  236  370 
1.75  258  404 
1.80  282  441 
1.85  308  482 
1.90  335  527 
1.95  367  575 
2.00  401  628 
2.05  439  687 
2.10  479  750 
2.15  523  819 
2.20  572  895 
2.25  625  978 
2.30  682  1068 
2.35  745  1167 
2.40  814  1275 
2.45  890  1393 
2.50  972  1522 
2.55  1062  1662 

*Calculation of Body Surface AreaBody surface area = the square root of height (cm) times weight (kg) divided by 3600To convert pounds to kilograms, multiply pounds by 0.45To convert inches to meters, multiply inches by .0254



To access on-line calculation tool