Frequently Asked Questions About Breast Implants

Few topics generate more curiosity or general questions in our office than breast implants. Breast implants were first approved by the FDA in 1962 and are now used in about 400,000 operations per year. They may be used for cosmetic augmentation and breast reconstruction after breast cancer. Breast implants are well studied and medically safe. Silicone itself is a material made up of silicon (used in computer chips). Silicone is used in medicine for more than just breast implants and can be found in everything from pacemakers to new joints for the hand. Here is a list of common questions and answers we regularly discuss to help patients decide whether or not implants are right for them.

Q: Are saline implants safer than silicone implants?

A: No. Both implant types have silicone shells but are filled with different materials. Saline implants are filled with salt water, and if they rupture, this saltwater will safely get absorbed by the body. If a newer generation silicone implant ruptures, the material stays inside the shell.

Q: Do breast implants interfere with cancer screening?

A: No. Radiologists who read mammograms have experience judging the breast tissue around implants. Various papers have shown that implants do not impact a radiologist’s ability to detect breast cancer with a mammogram.

Q: Can I get an augmentation without an implant using just my own fat?

A: Yes, but we typically can not safely get enough fat in the breast at one time to cause a significant size increase. Fat grafting into the breast is safe and widely used, mainly in breast reconstruction for cancer. But, for the typical volume increases desired with cosmetic augmentation, the small amount of fat that can safely be injected in one surgery usually is not enough.

Q: Do breast implants have to be removed in 10 years?

A: No. Implant approval studies for the FDA were tested with 10-year intervals, but that does not mean implants cannot last longer than 10 years. Frequently, we see implants last 20 years or even a lifetime.

Q: How can I tell if an implant has ruptured?

A: When saline implants rupture, the saltwater leaks out, and the implant deflates. Typically this can be seen on a physical exam, and often the patient diagnoses it themselves. Silicone implants usually rupture silently, meaning there is no outward sign. We need to order an MRI to confirm a rupture in a silicone implant. Patients can get screened with an MRI with the help of their doctor.

With the right education and patient selection, breast implants can be used safely and effectively. It is recommended that patients follow ACS cancer screening recommendations whether they have implants or not. As is the case for all cosmetic procedures, it is up to each individual to decide what is right for their own body. It is important to get all your questions answered by a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon before making your decision.