Feb 23, 2018

The Lifespan of an Implant

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By Eileen Spatz

It’s funny how we can tune out a potential negative when we’ve made up our mind about something we want, preferring instead to focus on all the positive aspects.  When in consultation with a plastic surgeon to discuss plans to give your bustline a perky makeover, their sage words of advice regarding getting regular MRIs to check for ruptures might be met with fingers in the ears while singing la la la la la as the doctor is speaking truth.  He or she may mention the high probability that, once an implant is in place, future surgeries are likely to be needed at some point.  Ears plugged, la la la la la… Please don’t burst my bubble ‘cause I really, really want those new breasts.

Well speaking of bursting bubbles, it is a harsh fact that in the real world of breast implants, regardless of what a patient might want to believe, the devices may, indeed, rupture.  Depending on the type of implant, how long ago it was implanted, and life itself, most implants are not going to be a lifetime device that lasts for decades.  On average, breast implants last about ten years.  According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website, current day implants are designed to last a decade or more, with the possibility of a rupture occurring increasing each year by one percent.  This means that at the ten-year mark, there is a 90% chance your implant will be intact.

Pop Goes the Implant?
You may wonder what, pray tell, can possibly go awry with your wonderful, squishy new breast implants?  Both saline and silicone implants have a silicone outer shell.  This shell is not impervious to blunt trauma, puncture, or the normal wear or aging of the implant inside the body over time, potentially breaking it down and causing leakage.  

So how does one know if their breast implant has failed them?  In the case of saline-filled implants, it will quickly be made known that a rupture has occurred as the breast deflates and loses shape in short order.  The saline that is released will be absorbed into body tissue without event, but the implant will have to be removed and replaced to restore symmetry.

If it is a silicone-filled device, the aptly named “silent rupture” can stealthily leak the silicone into the surrounding fibrous tissue without knowledge.  This is why doctors recommend an MRI every two years, to check the overall integrity of the implant and to detect if a tiny leak may be present.  Subsequent changes in the breast size or shape, softening or hardening of the affected breast, pain or swelling in the breast, or lumps can indicate the need for surgical removal of the ruptured implant.

A new type of implant, just FDA approved in 2013, is the “form-stable” implant, affectionately nicknamed the gummy bear implant.  The form-stable implant is made of cohesive gel silicone and a thick, layered silicone outer shell.  The benefit to this new entry into the implant field is its cohesive nature, eliminating the risk of leaks.  However, the gummy bear implant has not yet been time-tested, so there may be other negatives that could offset that feature.

Other Signs of the End of the Road for an Implant
The good news is that some implants can last up to twenty-five years, if all goes well.  However, even if you are on the lucky side of the average lifespan for an implant that hasn’t ruptured, other issues can warrant the removal and replacement of the existing device.  Such issues that tend to creep up on the older implants may involve:

  • Capsular contracture.  In some women, scar tissue around the implant can develop, causing the implant to become hardened and even misshapen.
  • Rippling.  Over time breast the shell of the implants can ripple and show through the skin, especially saline filled implants in thin women.
  • Natural aging and body changes.  Weight gain or loss, skin losing elasticity, and hormone changes can significantly change the appearance of the breasts.
The best way to approach the idea of improving your shape with breast implants is realistically.  Unplug your ears and listen to the wise doctor describe the possible pitfalls involved in this cosmetic surgery option.   Hope for good luck and implant longevity, but plan for regular check ups and, if opting for regular silicone-filled implants, occasional MRIs to err on the side of caution.  

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