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.