Now that silicone gel breast implants have been officially back and FDA-approved since 2006, most breast augmentation patients are opting for it. While it is more costly than saline breast implants, silicone breast implants offer a more natural feel, have very little to no implant rippling, and will not deflate in size if they rupture. While most patients prefer silicone over saline, and do eventually opt for it most of the time, there still remains concerns about their historic safety. Even very young patients, who were just young kids at the time of their removal from the market in 1992, will ask about these now near ancient breast implant issues. In listening to what their concerns are, it is apparent and understandable that patients confuse local complications with systemic complications when it comes to silicone breast implants.
Local breast implant complications exist today as well as decades ago….and they are the same whether they are saline or silicone breast implants. Local complications refer to ‘hardening of the breast implant’ or the formal plastic surgery term, capsular contracture. The formation of scar around any implant in the body is normal and is how the body reacts (favorably) to a foreign body that it ‘tolerates’. This scar is usually very thin and is undetectable by feel, making the breast soft and easily moveable. For reasons that are usually unknown (the leaking of silicone material through or out of an implant is a known cause), the scar around a breast implant may overreact and get quite thick. When this happens to a circular scar around a sphere (breast implant), it can start to contract making the breast hard, immobile, and even distorted if severe enough. This is known as capsular contracture and was quite common with old style silicone breast implants, particularly when they were placed above the muscle which was the norm in the 1980s and early 1990s. While troubling, capsular contracture does not have any harmful effects on the body other than the feel and shape of the breast itself. It is a local complication. The occurrence of capsular contracture in breast implants has been dramatically reduced over the past 15 years as the implants are now routinuely placed under the muscle rather than on top of the muscle. Why this works in not well understood but the combination of constant massage from muscle movement and that the tissue surrounding most of the implant is muscle (very vascular) rather than breast tissue are obvious reasons.
Systemic complications from breast implants refer to the potential for creating sickness of the body, specifically autoimmune diseases. While once touted as ‘fact’ by many, careful scientific scrutiny has failed to establish any such link. The old style silicone breast implants have been studied more than any medical implant in the body in the history of medicine and the causation of systemic health risks from them has been debunked. Today’s silicone breast implants are better made and the leeching of any silicone particles is very low compared to implants of old. It is for this reason that the FDA has released them back for commercial use. Patients should not fear today that any such systemic health risks exist. Yes, there will always be a few unfortunate patients who will develop automimmune diseases and other health issues that have breast implants but this association is coincidental, not cause and effect related.
Silicone breast implants, like saline breast implants, are health-wise safe. They have the potential for local complications over one’s lifetime, such as capsular contracture, but the occurtrence of this problem is fortunately low and capable of being successfully treated.
Dr. Barry Eppley