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New liposuction procedure raises hopes, fears

In this story: liposuction January 1, 1998
Web posted at: 10:59 p.m. EST (0359 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Liposuction is the most commonly performed cosmetic surgery procedure in the United States, and until recently it was also one of the safest. But some doctors are questioning the safety of a new procedure to remove fat that could revolutionize liposuction.

The procedure is called ultrasonic-assisted liposuction, or UAL.

It involves using a long, heated metal probe to melt the fat, which makes it easier to remove. Its value, doctors say, is that it makes it possible to remove more fat with less bruising, and it speeds up the recovery time.

"It's less traumatic," says Dr. Kristine Bennett, an Atlanta plastic surgeon. "We keep going less traumatic because the less trauma you see, the less blood loss you have and the less bruising."

vxtreme CNN's Rhonda Rowland reports

But not all cosmetic surgeons are sold on UAL, and among the skeptics is Dr. Guillermo Castillo, president of the American Academy of Plastic Surgery.

"If anyone tells you out there that ultrasonic liposuction is the best thing, you need to be very, very skeptical," he says.

Castillo says UAL has not been thoroughly tested, and that there have been reports of serious complications.

"We found instances of perforation of the bowel, perforation of kidneys, and other real serious problems," including burns, he says.

Bigger scars and fluid problems

Even those who believe in the procedure admit that the scars from UAL are larger than with conventional liposuction, and that fluid sometimes accumulates under the skin.

And doctors attending a recent training seminar said they were not willing to use it yet because of the potential dangers.

"I would be hard pressed to encourage patients to have this, even though they come in and ask for it," said Dr. Stephen Hopping. "They think it's the latest and best way of doing it."

No one knows for sure how common it is to have complications associated with the surgery, but malpractice attorney Robert Conason says the number of lawsuits is increasing.

"I have a number of pretty clear malpractice suits involving liposuction where you have penetration of other organs during the liposuction," he says. "It can leave somebody to die."

Also worth considering, doctors say, is the notion that liposuction -- whether conventional or UAL -- may not work.

Many plastic surgeons say that once fat cells have been removed, they're gone forever. They also say that someone who has had liposuction might, indeed, gain weight again, but it probably won't be disproportionate.

Fat cells can grow back

But Dr. Michael Myers, an obesity specialist, disagrees.

Linda Elommal
Linda Elommal

"It seems so logical," he says. "You remove the fat cells, they are gone. They have to be gone. They can't grow back. How could they grow back? But they do."

Myers says liposuction is merely a temporary fix, and an expensive one at that. The surgeon's fees alone range from $700 to $6,000.

When Linda Elommal had UAL four months ago, doctors removed 20 pounds of fat and she went down two dress sizes.

She is pleased with the results, although she is still overweight.

"But I was so disproportionate that it really made shopping for clothing difficult," she says. "I would just caution people to have realistic goals about it."

Correspondent Rhonda Rowland contributed to this report.

 
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