Breast implants are medical devices inserted under the breast tissue or chest muscles to increase breast size or restore breast volume that has been lost due to weight loss, pregnancy, or surgery. There are two primary types of breast implants: saline and silicone. Saline implants are filled with sterile salt water, while silicone implants are filled with a silicone gel. Both types have their own advantages and potential risks, which should be thoroughly discussed with a plastic surgeon.
The Safety of Breast Implants
Breast implants have been the subject of extensive scientific research and regulatory scrutiny. They have been rigorously tested for safety and efficacy, undergoing numerous clinical trials and studies before being approved for use by health authorities worldwide. This includes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a globally recognized body that sets high standards for the approval of medical devices. The FDA’s approval process for breast implants is stringent, ensuring that the implants meet specific safety standards. This includes testing for strength, robustness, and durability, as well as assessing the biocompatibility of the materials used.
Modern breast implants are designed with durability in mind. They are made from materials that are resistant to wear and tear, and are built to withstand the pressures exerted by the surrounding breast tissue and muscle. Over time, the implant may change shape or size, or complications may develop that require additional surgery. The longer a person has the implants, the higher the likelihood of these events occurring. Regular check-ups with a healthcare professional can help monitor the condition of the implants and identify any issues early.
Despite some misconceptions, breast implants are not inherently dangerous to health. They are medical devices that, like all medical devices, carry some level of risk. The risks associated with breast implants are significantly minimized when the surgery is performed by a fully accredited and experienced plastic surgeon. These professionals have the necessary training and expertise to perform the procedure safely and to manage any complications that may arise effectively. They also follow stringent infection control practices, further reducing the risk of complications.
Risks and Complications Associated with Breast Implants
Infection: While every precaution is taken to prevent infection, it is a potential risk with any surgery. If an infection does occur, it is typically within the weeks following surgery and can be managed with antibiotics. In rare cases, the implant may need to be removed and replaced.
Changes in Nipple or Breast Sensation: Some individuals may experience changes in the sensitivity of the nipples or the breast skin following surgery. This can range from increased sensitivity to numbness. While these changes are often temporary, they can be permanent in some cases.
Implant Leakage or Rupture: Breast implants are durable, but they can still leak or rupture. If a saline implant ruptures, the saline is safely absorbed by the body. Silicone implant leaks are harder to detect and may require imaging tests. A ruptured implant usually needs to be removed or replaced.
Capsular Contracture: This occurs when the scar tissue that naturally forms around the implant tightens and squeezes the implant. It can cause the breast to feel hard, look abnormal, and be painful. Treatment can range from medication to surgery to remove the scar tissue and replace the implant.
Implant Deflation or Breakage: An implant may deflate or break due to wear and tear or damage over time. Regular check-ups and imaging tests can help identify these issues early, and the implant can be replaced if necessary.
Rare Health Problems
Some individuals have reported a collection of symptoms known as Breast Implant Illness (BII). Symptoms can include fatigue, chest pain, hair loss, headaches, chills, photosensitivity, chronic pain, and others. While these symptoms are real and can significantly impact quality of life, it is currently unclear whether they are directly caused by breast implants or other factors.
Additionally, there is a very low risk of developing a rare type of cancer called Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). This is not breast cancer but a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the immune system). It usually involves the scar tissue and fluid around the implant, but in some cases, it can spread throughout the body. Removal of the implant and surrounding tissue can typically cure BIA-ALCL.
While these risks and complications are possible, they are not common, and many individuals have breast implants without experiencing any issues. Regular follow-ups with a plastic surgeon can help ensure any problems are detected and treated early.
Breast Implants and Breastfeeding
The ability to breastfeed after breast implant surgery is a common concern for many women. Contrary to some beliefs, many women with breast implants can indeed breastfeed successfully. However, several factors can influence this:
Type of Surgery
The surgical technique used during the implant procedure can impact breastfeeding. There are several types of incisions used in breast implant surgery, including under the breast fold, around the areola, in the armpit, and through the belly button.
Procedures that avoid incisions in the nipple area (periareolar incisions) are less likely to interfere with breastfeeding as they are less likely to disrupt the milk ducts or nerves. Even if an incision is made around the areola, it does not guarantee breastfeeding difficulties. Many women who have had this type of incision breastfeed successfully.
The placement of the implants can also affect breastfeeding. Implants can be placed either above or below the chest muscle (pectoralis muscle). Implants placed under the muscle (submuscular placement) are less likely to interfere with milk production as they are further from the breast tissue where milk is produced. Implants placed above the muscle (subglandular placement) are closer to this breast tissue and may apply pressure that can potentially affect milk production.
Individual variations can affect the ability to breastfeed. Some women may naturally have a lower milk supply, regardless of whether they have implants. Factors such as age, overall health, and previous breast surgeries can also affect milk production.
Breast implants are generally safe but carry potential risks, including surgical complications and long-term issues. Understand these factors and discuss them thoroughly with a plastic surgeon before making a decision. The choice to get breast implants should be based on accurate information and realistic expectations, ensuring the best possible outcome for each individual.