Overview of Plastic Surgery

What is plastic surgery?

It is a popular misconception that the word plastic in plastic surgery means artificial. Rather, the word is derived from the ancient Greek word plastikos, which means "to mold or give form." Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty involved with the reconstruction of facial and body tissue defects due to illness, trauma, or birth disorders.

Plastic surgery restores and improves function, as well as appearance. It can involve surgery on any portion of the anatomy, except the central nervous system, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • skin (including skin cancer, scars, burns, birthmarks, tattoo removal)
  • maxillofacial (the facial skeleton)
  • congenital anomalies (including deformed ears, cleft palate, cleft lip)
Picture of female physician

Physicians who perform plastic surgery:

It is important for patients to select physicians who are certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Generally, a surgeon who is board-certified in plastic surgery has graduated from an accredited medical school and has completed at least five years of graduate medical education - usually three years of general surgery and two years of plastic surgery. In addition, the surgeon must practice plastic surgery for two years and pass comprehensive written and oral examinations to become board-certified.

What does plastic surgery include?

Plastic surgery includes both reconstructive and aesthetic (cosmetic) procedures:

  • reconstructive plastic surgery
    In general, reconstructive surgery is performed on abnormal structures of the body that may be caused by the following:
    • trauma
    • infection
    • developmental abnormalities
    • congenital (present at birth) anomalies
    • disease
    • tumors

    This type of surgery is usually performed to improve function, but may also be performed to approximate a normal appearance.

  • cosmetic (aesthetic) plastic surgery
    Cosmetic surgery is performed to repair or reshape otherwise normal structures of the body, generally, to improve appearance.

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