Does Enhanced Airport Security Detect Breast Implants?

Sharon at RealSelf on 30 Nov 2010 at 12:11pm

The holiday season is America's busiest travel period, with long-distance trips increasing by an average of 23 to 54 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year. Air travelers have enough on their minds already – Who knew that breast implants would also be a major concern?

Two weeks ago, a flight attendant's prosthetic breast – a harsh reminder of her battle with breast cancer – fell afoul of new TSA screening procedures. These new rules include the use of full-body scanners and increased pat-downs for certain fliers, both of which can detect medical devices inside and outside of the body. The flight attendant was made to remove her external prosthesis before continuing on her journey (she is now seeking legal advice through her union), which has sparked controversy among plastic surgery patients about their right to privacy in airports.

“I am going to travel over the holidays and I know two of the airports I will be going through have the TSA scanners,” commented one anonymous RealSelf user. “Do you have to tell screeners you have implants? I am so nervous about having to go through the whole humiliating process!”

The answer, it seems, is not simple. According to the TSA website: “It is recommended (but not required) that you advise the Security Officer that you have an... implanted medical device, and where that implant is located. If you have an implanted medical device, that you would like to remain private and confidential, ask the Security Officer to please be discreet when assisting you through the screening process.”

However, many plastic surgery patients don't want to discuss their implants at all. “Having breast implants is a personal matter,” commented Dr. Peter A. Aldea, a Memphis plastic surgeon. “Just because you are taking a flight to get from Point A to Point B does not mean that you have automatically given up all your rights to privacy and I would respond by saying that you have no metallic implants. Period. It is none of the TSA's business if you have them or not.”

Unfortunately, if you are traveling with implants and go through the full-body scanner, the security officer will be able to see your implants, and they may or may not ask you about them.

Dr. Richard Tholen, a Minneapolis plastic surgeon, offers this advice for “enhanced” travelers: “Realize that if they can see breast implants, they can see chin and cheek implants, finger joint replacements, chemo catheters, shunts for water on the brain, testicular implants, and anything containing metal, like breast tissue expanders, pacemakers, and any artificial hip, knee, or shoulder joint,” he says. “Lots of people have them.... Realize [TSA doesn't] really care if you have had breast enhancement; they just don't want someone to sneak through with something harmful to you and your fellow passengers.”

Are you worried about flying with breast implants? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments (6)

I think it is a personal matter, so it should not be discussed by the TSA.

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Excuse me, but this "report" is using incorrect and misleading terminology. The "implant" of the flight attendant was NOT an implant at all, but a prosthetic device that is worn on the outside of the body! An implant, by definition, is a devise that is INSIDE the body, such as in a joint replacement, lap-band surgery, or the like. You can NOT remove an implant without surgery as the body has healed itself around the device, thus the flight attendant could not have removed her "external implant"! This is false and misleading!

The flight attendant did remove her prosthetic breast, which is not an implant!!!

Please get the terminology correct and revise this report to correct the inaccuracies.

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Thanks for your comment. We've revised the article to clarify the flight attendant's experience.

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If Americans really want to BE safer (luckily most Americans are not cowards), they should support making the highway speed limit 30 mph, instead of allowing the TSA to commit torts, crimes, and constitutional violations against the American people.

For me, I'll take the inherent risk of living life.
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San Antonio, apparently the goons at the TSA have accomplished their goal of making you FEEL safer (you said, “rather safe than sorry”).

Though, ask any security expert, and they’ll tell you that the TSA is tricking you into this false sense of security.
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As a person with implants, would you rather a TSA screener see your implants through a full body scanner or would you rather be blown to bits and pieces because someone refused to have the scan done. Why on earth would anyone care if you have implants or not?! If they do, then, that is their problem. Obviously, they should not be in that job, if that is the case. I realize it is very personal, but, NOT their business. They already can pat you down and see a lot of things. So, what's wrong with one more step. At least, they will be seeing it, instead of feeling it, as would be the case if you let them do a pat down instead. I realize external implants are different than internal, but they should at least take you into a different room for that. Like I said, rather safe than sorry.
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