Breast implants are in the news. Recently, at the request of the FDA, the maker of a textured silicone implant recalled the devices due to an increased risk of a rare form of cancer.
In 2018, more than 100,000 breast cancer patients who had opted for mastectomies, chose to have reconstructive surgery, often with implants. Triple that number had elective breast enlargement surgery. A year earlier, nearly 50,000 women with implants decided to have them removed.
This article is not intended to discourage women from choosing implants. It is just meant to spur discussions with your health care team.
Here are five things you need to know about breast implants:
1. Breast implants do not last forever.
All implants will fail sooner or later. If you have implants, you will certainly need additional surgery sometime down the road. Studies indicate that, on average, silicone implants will last less than eight years. Some experts agree that ten years is the lifespan of implants, whether saline or silicone. When a saline implant leaks, there are obvious physical signs. However, when silicone implants leak or rupture the signs may not be obvious. And mammograms may not detect the problem.
2. Implants may interfere with mammograms.
A mammogram can be a life-saving diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer. Tumors found early through mammograms may allow treatments that do not involve surgery. But implants, depending on their size relative to the natural breast, decreases the accuracy of a mammogram, according to the FDA.
Studies also show that more than half of breast tumors are not visible due to implants. Additionally, there is a risk that silicone and saline implants can rupture during a mammogram, causing some women to forego the test.
3. Breastfeeding may be difficult.
Even without implants, pregnancy can alter the shape and size of a woman’s breasts. After birth, implants may put pressure on the milk ducts and make it difficult to breastfeed. It is also possible that mammary glands may be damaged during the implant surgery.
4. Communication is essential.
Do not be afraid to discuss with your surgeon or other members of your health care team any fears you may have concerning implant surgery. They can describe what the implants may mean for you in the future. Be sure to let the team know of your previous surgeries and your body’s reactions. The professionals with whom you entrust your health should be able to help you form reasonable expectations so that you fully understand the potential risks vs. the anticipated benefits. Also, you should read the Summary of Safety and Effectiveness Data (SSED) required for each type of implant.
5. Monitoring is Essential.
You should completely understand and follow the instructions of your surgeon and health care team after surgery. Watch for any symptoms you think are not normal and immediately report them to your doctor or team member.
Always inform your testing facility that you have implants prior to a mammogram. Your doctor may also recommend a periodic MRI, which has been shown to be the most effective method of detecting a rupture of the implant.
Knowledge is power.
Remember, the more you know, the more confident you will be in deciding what’s best for you. It’s your body and your health, so ask questions as many times as it takes to get the answers you need to make informed decisions.
National Center for Health Research