Plastic surgery is the surgical management of a wide variety of conditions of the skin and connective tissue. These conditions may be present from birth or result from injury, burns, age, or cancer.
Plastic surgeons, with their techniques and skills, can produce more pleasing cosmetic results (which are of more value to a patient) than can ordinary surgeons performing the same operation. They act as members of a clinical management team in the treatment of particularly difficult cases, such as patients with cleft lip and palate, head and neck cancer, gross deformities of the head and face, victims of multiple injury and people requesting sex-change operations.
The origins of plastic surgery can be traced back to around 600 BC in India, when Susruta described 16 different methods of repairing earlobes; to Greece and Egypt, where Hippocrates and others over a number of centuries described ways of dealing with scars and correcting deformities of eyelids and hands; and to the Chinese T’ang dynasty of AD 618907, where Fang Kan repaired cleft lips and palates. Advances in modern plastic surgery have taken place through the ingenuity of military surgeons in wartime over the past 400 years. In the sixteenth century Ambroise Pare described new methods of cleaning wounds and dressing burns and designed a large variety of hand and face prostheses for French soldiers who were hideously deformed in wars. At the same time, Gasparo Tagliacozzi devised a method of making a nose from a flap of tissue raised from the patient’s upper arm. He was abused by his contemporaries and the clergy who accused him of meddling with human destiny and God’s handiwork.
Further development was delayed until around the Napoleonic Wars and American Civil War, which produced surgeons concerned not just with increasing the chance of survival for the injured, but with improving the quality of the survivors’ lives. However, it was only during and after World War I that this style of surgery received universal recognition as a special surgical art under the heading of plastic and reconstructive surgery. The Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery was formed in the U.S. soon after the end of the war, and was followed by the formation of similar societies in Europe.
Since World War II, plastic surgery has become an established and respected surgical specialty with its own subspecialties.