Breast augmentation with implants is the most popular and widely performed cosmetic surgery in the U.S. and around the world. Millions of people have had breast implants inserted, be it for cosmetic or reconstructive purposes.
While silicone and saline implants have been in use since the 1960s, recently there has been a rise in media coverage about the potential risks and safety of breast implants.
If you’re considering breast implants, one of the first questions you may ask is, “Are breast implants safe?”
As with all devices, there are risks associated with breast implants – both surgical and device-related – that you should be aware of. Read on to learn important facts and risks associated with breast implants so you can make an informed decision.
Breast implant basics
Breast augmentation is a standard procedure that involves an implant to change the size, shape and contour of your breasts. Cosmetic breast augmentation changes the appearance of your breasts to achieve a desired look. Implants can also be used to replace tissue lost to cancer through reconstructive breast surgery.
In the U.S., surgeons can only offer saline or silicone gel implants that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both types of implants contain silicone, but the inner contents of the implants are what sets them apart.
“Saline implants have an outer casing or shell made of silicone but are filled with a sterile saline solution,” said Nathan Narasimhan, MD, a plastic surgeon at Banner Health Clinic in Greeley, CO. “Silicone implants also have an outer silicone shell but are filled with silicone gel.”
The outer shell of either type of implants can be smooth for more natural movement or textured for a firmer feel.
Breast implant safety
Saline and silicone gel implants go through rigorous testing and research before they’re approved by the FDA and are made available to patients.
The technology is constantly changing and improving, with improvements in the durability of the implant shell and the gumminess, or cohesiveness, of the gel fill in silicone implants. This cohesiveness ensures silicone gel stays together even if there should be a cut or tear in the implant.
While implants are made for long-term use, the FDA recommends regular medical imaging screenings to check implant integrity.
“The risk of silicone leakage is much less now than in the past due to improvements in implant technology and the gel that fills them,” Dr. Narasimhan said. “Silicone that has leaked out of an implant has been studied extensively and was found to have no negative health impact.”
That said, if yours ruptures or leaks, a replacement is recommended as this can change the look of your breasts.
Breast implant risks
While millions of people have successfully received breast implant surgery with no negative effects, there are risks with all forms of surgery and all implanted medical devices, including breast implants.
Complications of breast implant surgery
“The surgical risks are very low, and the long-term risks are fortunately low as well,” Dr. Narasimhan said.
As with any surgery, however, there are risks with all breast implants, such as breast pain, bleeding, infection, changes to the feeling of the breasts or nipples, or a collection of fluid.
“Less commonly, some people develop capsular contracture, which is a hardening or tightening of the implant that occurs when thick scar tissue forms and tightens the implant,” Dr. Narasimhan. “This can change the shape of the implant and the shape of your breast.”
Implant deflation or breakages are also rare occurrences post-surgery.
Rare health problems
There’s been public concern in the news and on social media about the slight risk of developing an implant-related health problem like breast implant illness (BII), which can include joint pain, fatigue and neurological (memory) problems. In some cases, people have reported relief after breast implant removal, but the issue continues to puzzle researchers.
“Currently, BII isn’t well understood and there’s no research-based evidence as to how to define it, what causes it or even consensus on how to treat it,” Dr. Narasimhan said. “There is active research going on to try to answer some of these questions, but nothing definitive has been published at this point.”
Another health problem drawing attention is an uncommon cancer known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
“BIA-ACLC is most often associated with textured implants,” Dr. Narasimhan said. “Most, if not all, textured implants are either no longer on the market or rarely used.”
BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer. There is no link between breast implants and breast cancer. BIA-ALCL is a rare type of immune system cancer that can develop in the breast tissue or scar tissue surrounding the implant. It is a highly treatable cancer.
Concerns about breastfeeding with implants
It’s possible to breastfeed your baby with breast implants, but it will depend on the size and placement of the implants and the type of surgery you’ve had. There’s no known risk to your baby if you breastfeed.
Talk to your health care provider, a board-certified plastic surgeon and a lactation consultant before your surgery.
Removing your implants
It’s your decision to have breast implants placed, and it’s your decision to have breast implants removed as well. If you’ve reached a point where you may want to have your breast implants removed, whether it be personal or for physical or medical necessity, talk to your health care provider or plastic surgeon.
Whether you’re looking to boost your self-confidence, such as with a “mommy makeover,” or want to learn about your options post-mastectomy, breast augmentation is an option you may be thinking about. It’s a highly personal decision that requires you to weigh the benefits with the risks they pose — even if the risks are small.
Talk to your health care provider or a plastic surgeon to see if breast augmentation is a good fit for you. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.