Everything You Need to Know About Breast Implants

Breast augmentation is the most popular cosmetic surgery in the world. The procedure aims to enhance breasts according to the patient’s preferences, usually by making the breasts proportional to the rest of the patient’s body.

Key takeaways:

Most women who are considering breast augmentation are motivated to improve the shape of their breasts, which may include changing the volume, reducing sagginess, or improving symmetry. Research on the effects of breast augmentation on patients’ lives has shown that people who undergo breast augmentation often experience increased quality of life, improved marital relationships, and enhancements in overall satisfaction.

How long do breast implants last?

Breast implants are not considered to be lifetime devices, though some do last a lifetime. Surgeons estimate the average lifespan of a breast implant to be between 15 and 20 years.

In the past decade or so, technique refinement has led to a significant reduction in the rate of breast implant reoperations. This improvement has been driven by more planning and collaboration between patients and surgeons and has been recognized as key to good breast implant outcomes.

Today, surgeons will work with patients to understand the motivation for the surgery and to ensure that the patient’s expectations are aligned with those of the surgeon. When patients are comfortable with the size, shape, and type of implants prior to the procedure, they are more likely to be satisfied with the results and avoid additional surgeries.

Complications of breast augmentation

Though complications from breast augmentation are rare, those that occur soon after surgery include infection, pain, changes in breast and nipple sensation, scarring, hematoma, and seroma. Scarring and other poor cosmetic outcomes are also possible. Longer-term complications include the displacement of the implant and leaking or deflation of the implant.

Breast implants are not for everyone

Despite few complications, breast implants are not advised for everyone who wants them. For instance, people with a history of breast infections, cancer, autoimmune disease, certain other medical conditions, and sensitivity to silicone are urged not to pursue breast implantation.

Breast augmentation is not typically recommended for people who plan to get pregnant. Women with breast implants are more likely to be unable to breastfeed and less likely to exclusively feed their infants breast milk than those without implants. It is recommended to wait 3 months after ceasing breastfeeding before getting breast implants.

Link between breast implants and cancer

Researchers have identified a link between certain breast implants and a rare form of cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) — a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The ALCL incidence that occurs in those with breast prostheses ranges from 3,800 to 30,000 cases per 100,000 women each year.

In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a Safety Communication calling attention to another form of cancer — squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) — that can occur in the scar tissue surrounding breast implants. However, given that the risk for this type of SCC is low, the FDA does not recommend the removal of breast implants. Instead, they suggest that people considering breast implants educate themselves on the risks and benefits of the implants and monitor the implants for any problems.

Since the emergence of data demonstrating an association between breast implants and cancer, the FDA has strengthened the safety requirements for breast implants and updated its guidance on their use.

Breast implants can be removed or replaced

Breast implant procedures are associated with a high patient satisfaction rate. Nonetheless, second surgeries are sometimes requested, and the long-term maintenance of breast enhancements often involves implant removal and replacement.

The recognition that breast implants may increase the risk of certain cancers has also led some women to prefer to remove their implants. Implant removal in those cases can also be performed safely with few complications, though doctors do not always recommend removal procedures.

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