In the early 1980’s breast implants began gaining popularity, but they have been on the market since the early 1960’s. They were invented by plastic surgeons Cronin and Gerow. Dow Corning began manufacturing them commercially in 1962. Today over two million women have undergone breast augmentation surgery. There are many negative consequences that may arise from the surgery, and there is always the risk of infection or rupture. When beginning my research on the subject I assumed there would be a plethora of information. I was shocked to find out that there wasn’t. Silicone breast implants have been around for 40 years and there have been very few studies on their consequences, and possible effects on a woman’s body. The Food and Drug Administration has never approved the use of silicone implants. It is a surprising fact, because silicone implants are still being used today, but only by women who agree to be in a study of their safety. The politics surrounding breast augmentation are sketchy for lack of a better word. They have been promoted as being safe, yet their safety has never been fully questioned. While looking online, I found a variety of websites on the subject. There were many websites from the plastic surgery industry promoting breast implants as being safe. Then there were the websites like http://www.siliconeholocaust.org, this was by far the most disturbing site I have ever seen. There were dozens of pictures of real women who had their lives ruined by breast implants. If these, and other women had the little information that is available on the subject, they may have opted not to have the surgery because of the unnecessary consequences they now suffer.
Every woman has her own reasons behind her decision to get breast implants. Some women have undergone mastectomies, and get breast implants in order to feel “normal” again. According to the National Women’s Health Network (http://www.womenshealthnetwork.org) women who have lumpectomies have the same survival rate of women who have mastectomies as a result of breast cancer. They concluded that up to 40 percent of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer underwent unnecessary mastectomies. These mastectomies, whether necessary or not may lead to women to undergo breast augmentation surgery.
Other women have always felt that their breasts were too small, and out of proportion to their bodies. There are also the women who have average to large sized breasts to begin with, but for some reason feel the need to enhance her natural form. Body image plays a large role in whether a woman decides to undergo breast augmentation surgery. Women view themselves, and judge themselves by what they see on television, movies, and in magazines. The way the media portrays women is not natural. Models and actresses are, on the most part, thin and have seemingly flawless bodies. A young impressionable girl may feel the need to look like this herself; therefore she will grow up thinking she has to be perfect and she is not good enough. Girls as young as 11 are now contemplating plastic surgery. Breast implants are being put into the bodies of 15 year olds. A fifteen year old girl does not have the mental capacity to make a life altering decision like this. This shows us that there is a problem with the way children are being raised in today’s society. Any child under the age of 18 needs parental consent to have surgery, and I doubt that a 15 year old girl has the money saved up to be able to afford breast implants. This means that parents are footing the bill, and putting their daughter’s lives in the hands of plastic surgeons. They do this all in the name of beauty. Because the average breast implant lasts only 7-12 years by the time a young woman is 22 she may be having her second breast augmentation surgery.
The number of breast augmentation surgeries doubled in 2000, to 203,310 from 1997. This number does not include the 82,975 women who underwent the surgery for reconstruction after mastectomy. This does not mean that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women getting breast implants. Many of those surgeries were women either replacing aging or ruptured implants, or removing them. The bottom line is that all implants will rupture and will have to be replaced at some point. The longer a woman has her implants, the higher the risk of rupture. Over a woman’s lifetime she will have to undergo several surgeries, and that means increased scar tissue and the always present danger of infection. Not to mention the financial costs, and pain a woman will suffer with each additional surgery.
With so many women electing to undergo breast augmentation surgery, it is alarming that there have been very few studies with any conclusive results regarding any type of breast implant. Only in 1991 did the FDA require manufacturers of breast implants to submit safety studies. After review of the studies the FDA concluded that they were inadequate and they could not bring to a close whether silicone implants were safe or effective. Although never approved by the FDA silicone breast implants are still in limited use today, but only by women who participate in the study of the effects of silicone on the body. Saline implants are the only other type of breast implant used in the United States today. These are implants with a silicone outer shell, filled with a saline solution (salt water). The FDA concluded in 2000 that this type of implant was safe, and approved its use in the U.S.
In Europe there were several different types of implants available until the year 2000. They were all advertised as a safe and natural alternative to silicone. One type was called Trilucent. This was an implant that was filled with a soybean oil based solution. It was taken off the market because it caused high risks for infection, and when the solution would leak, sometimes it would turn rancid. The filler would then break down into chemicals called aldehydes. These are DNA altering chemicals. Women with these implants were advised not to have children until they had their implants removed, and not to breast feed because of possible negative effects on infants. The other two types of implants that were banned in 2000 were Novagold and PIP Hydrogel. The government found that information on the safety of these products were lacking so took them off the market as a precautionary measure. Thousands of women now have these products in their bodies, and no one knows whether they are safe or not.
Women are putting their lives at risk everyday just to have larger breasts. “Approximately 8.08% of women in the United Stated have breast implants.” (http://www.biomed.brown.edu). Most are white women in the South, or West. Sixty percent of breast implant surgery was performed on women ranging in age from 19-34. “From 1985, until September 10, 1998, the FDA received 127,500 adverse reaction reports for silicone gel-filled implants. During that same period, there have been 49,661 adverse reaction reports for saline-filled implants” and, “As of September 10, 1998, the FDA received 118 reports of deaths allegedly related to breast implants” (http://www.biomed.brown.edu). With these statistics it is surprising that women are still opting for the surgery.
With any surgery there are major risks involved. The surgical risks include infection, hematoma, and the risk of additional surgeries. These additional surgeries may be for replacement or removal of implants, or the removal of scar tissue or hematoma’s which may result from the initial surgery. There are also local complications, such as nipple sensitivity or desensitivity. This may be a temporary or sometimes permanent problem. If the nipple is too sensitive breast feeding may become extremely uncomfortable and impossible.
The most common problem associated with breast implants is capsular contracture. “The human body puts a wall of scar tissue (fibrous capsule) around any foreign material and breast implants are no exception. Scar tissue shrinks, but the extent of the shrinkage varies from person to person and even from breast to breast.” (http://www.doh.gov). This shrinking of scar tissue is known as capsular contracture. Although this is a normal occurrence sometimes the capsule of tissue tightens around the breast to a point where discomfort or disfigurement occurs. It may lead to additional surgery in order to loosen the capsule around the implant, or it may squeeze the implant so hard that it ruptures. Sometimes the implant can actually get squeezed out of a woman’s body.
Rupturing is another common problem associated with breast implants. Because all implants will breakdown sooner or later most women with implants experience at least one rupture within 15 years of their first surgery. Three to nine percent of saline implants will rupture within the first three years, (http://www.center4policy.org). With saline implants they can deflate within a few hours or it can take up to several days. The saline is harmlessly absorbed into the woman’s body. As for silicone gel implants, rupture is a much more serious problem. When a rupture occurs, a number of things may then happen. First, the gel may be contained in the capsule of scar tissue created around the breast. If this happens a woman may not even know that a rupture has occurred. Second, the gel may leak out of the capsule of scar tissue and new scar tissue will form around it. This causes hard lumps that can be felt around the breast. The third thing that may happen is that the silicone will escape the breast tissue all together and migrate to other parts of the body. The consequences of this happening are unknown because not enough long term research has been done.
Auto-immune disease is another scary consequence of breast implants. Although no studies have been conducted in the U.S., some European studies show that any breast surgery, whether it be for a reduction or implantation may be associated with and increased risk for neurological or autoimmune diseases. This includes scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Sceroderma affects the blood vessels and connective tissue. Many women who have had breast implants complain of debilitating pains in their joints that have been caused by arthritis they otherwise would not have.
Along with the physical expenses there are financial costs associated with breast augmentation. The average cost of breast implants is $3,077. This is just for the initial surgery. Every additional surgery may cost as much or even more than the first. Removal of implants is often more expensive because all scar tissue and leaked material must be removed. This often results in a woman having smaller breasts than she did before she had any surgery at all. The remaining breast tissue may be lumpy and completely unnatural looking. A woman also needs to consider the fact that no part of her surgery will be covered by health insurance, and any complications she may have from any type of plastic surgery will not be covered by her insurance. Women who have had breast implants often cannot get health insurance because they have an increased risk of illness. If a woman is able to obtain health insurance she may have to pay a higher premium because of her past plastic surgery history.
After learning of the negative consequences that may, and probably will arise from breast implants, it is surprising that so many women are still getting them. It is major surgery and the benefits of having larger breast is not worth the unnecessary chance of death or serious pain for life. More work needs to be done on the study of breast implants because women need to know what they are putting in their bodies. Breast implant manufacturers need to be held responsible, and plastic surgeon should be required to make sure every woman is fully aware of all the possible side effects before she has any type of surgery done.
Brown University, Department of Biology and Medicine. 14 Feb. 2003 .
Darrick Antell Homepage. 15 Feb. 2003 .
Department of Health. 15 Feb. 2003 .
National Center For Policy (CPR) For Women ; Families. 18 Nov. 2002 .
National Women’s Health Network. 3 Mar. 2003 .
Silicone Gel Breast Implants. 14 Feb. 2003 .