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Health & Wellness

Are Implants Worth The Risk?

Breast implants are an incredible invention which can offer women a renewed sense of confidence and well-being. Cosmetic surgery is, in general, big business, and according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2017 breast augmentation was by far the most popular cosmetic procedure. 1

While breast implants are still steadily growing in popularity, the rate at which they are growing is slow. Meanwhile, the popularity of minimally invasive cosmetic treatments has increased by 200% between 2016 and 2017, with procedures such as Botox and chemical peels growing in popularity as well. 2

In 2017, there were more than 300,000 breast enlargements performed in the United States and more than 100,000 breast cancer patients had reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. This means that since 1997, the popularity of breast augmentation has tripled. Breast augmentation is an invasive procedure and with any of those procedures, there is some risk. If you are considering breast augmentation you should consider the risks carefully.

 width= Are Implants Safe?

Breast implants have been available for decades. Early breast implants were made from silicone and filled with either silicone gel or a saline solution. In the 1960s and early 70s, the FDA did not require implant makers to prove that their devices were safe, and it turned out that there were problems with some of those early implants. The FDA changed the rules and required implant makers to seek approval. In response, the implant makers came out with newer implants which were less likely to rupture or cause other problems. Even now, there are still some risks with implants.

What Are the Risks of Implants?

There are a number of long-term and short-term risks associated with implants. Some risks could be called 'local complications,' because they relate to the breast and the operation itself. Some risks are harder to diagnose and to link to the implants, such as fatigue or auto-immune issues. However, because of the frequency with which they are reported by women who have had breast implants, the FDA has documented them as a potential risk.

Three-quarters of breast reconstruction patients have reported complications within the first three years, including: 3

  • Breast pain

  • Hardening of the tissue

  • The need for a re-operation within the first three years

It could be argued that there are risks with breast cancer patients that might not be present with women who are getting breast surgery for cosmetic reasons, because of the other treatments the cancer patients were also required to have. The FDA has ordered studies into the safety of breast implants in general, including ones that are being used for cosmetic purposes.

The results of the studies into the newer silicone gel-based implants have found that the safety record is quite good. Women who have breast implant surgery report feeling better about their body image, and also report feeling happy with the shape and feel of the implants. The short to medium-term follow up studies that have been done so far have found no correlation between breast implants and connective tissue disease or breast cancer. They also show that there is no evidence to support the risk of women who have breast implants being unable to successfully breastfeed their children. 4

The FDA's studies, however, run contrary to some more recent studies that have been published in the UK, which suggest that some popular types of a textured implant may be linked to a rare form of lymphoma 5 , because the textured implant causes scar tissue to build up in the breast. The cancer cells grow within the scar tissue, but not the breast tissue itself. This kind of cancer is very rare though and is thought to have a prevalence of just 0.3% per 100,000 women per year. 6

Risk vs Reward  width=

Deciding whether or not to get breast implants is a very personal decision. For some women, breast implants are a cosmetic procedure that they would like to have, but that is not really necessary. They may be happy enough with their body as it is, and just "want to have slightly different breasts". For someone who is in that frame of mind, the decision to get breast implants should be weighed against the risk of infection from the operation, of discomfort from the implant, and of a very low percentage, but still present, cancer risk. It is a good idea to discuss the risks with your doctor and to read the latest research because studies into the safety of implants are still ongoing.

There are other women who feel far less positive about their bodies. For them, implants could be life-changing because they feel self-conscious, anxious or unhappy about their breasts as they are. Perhaps they are unhappy with the size or shape or need a breast replaced after cancer. For them, the improvement in their quality of life that comes from having the implants may be worth the risk of side effects or illness later. The safety of implants improves with each generation, so this is worth considering. Again, your surgeon or doctor would be able to give the best advice.

PhotoCredits: MonkeyBusinessImages/, BranislavP/, GeorgeRudy/

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