There is a common misconception surrounding breast augmentation, the belief that breast implants need to be replaced every ten years. The idea is so widespread that many people are shocked to learn that all silicone breast implants legally sold in the United States today come with a lifetime warranty. While any medical device, including breast implants, will fail eventually, today’s breast implants are all expected to outlast the patient.
“A lot of people come in and ask me, ‘Am I going to have to change my implant?'” shares New York board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Tracy Pfeifer. “They’re thinking about, ‘What is my future going to be with this implant?’ and it’s a great question. I really have to go back and explain to people the history of implants in order to understand where we are with today’s modern implants.”
The History of Implants
When silicone implants were first produced, they were not as reliable as they are today. Early silicone implants were filled with a runny silicone gel that had a consistency similar to water or honey. Combine a runny silicone filling with a thin outer shell prone to tearing, and the result was often a messy leak within the breast.
Early Silicone Implants:
- Weak, thin shells
- Runny silicone fill
- Prone to tearing and leaks
As silicone oozed out of a failing early-generation implant, the body responded by surrounding the invading silicone gel with scar tissue. Thickened scar tissue in the breast is also known as capsular contracture, and is commonly diagnosed when a breast implant begins to feel firm or hard to the touch as a result of the presence of thick scar tissue. Many studies done on early generation breast implants showed that the leak rate went up significantly at approximately ten years post op.
“Back then, because there was a high leak rate,” explains Dr. Pfeifer, “and because if your implant leaked, you in many cases would get capsular contracture, people said, ‘Well, why don’t we change the implants around ten years so that we can avoid a leak? We’ll just do a simple surgery, we’ll go through the old incision, take out the implant, put in a fresh one, and avoid the more complicated surgery that’s necessary if your implant leaks and you develop capsular contracture.'”
Advances in Implant Technology
Fast forward twenty years and the science behind implant production has advanced tremendously. Today’s silicone gel breast implants are made with an outer shell that is much less likely to develop a tear or a flaw. If a tear does occur, and even if an implant is cut in half, the silicone gel inside the implant does not ooze out into the surrounding breast tissue. This is because the silicone gel inside of the implant has been engineered to be much more coheisve, resulting in a “firm” gel rather than a honey-like gel.
New Silicone Implants:
- Cohesive gel, gummy bear consistency
- Strong, tear-resistant shells
- Even if they tear, the silicone does not leak
“Today, the implants are totally different,” points out Pfeifer. “The silicone is what we call cohesive. It really doesn’t seep, it’s not like water. The shells are much better. They really don’t develop tears very often at all.”
When a patient asks if they will need to replace their implants in ten years, Dr. Pfeifer lets them know that if there is no problem with the implant, there is no reason to change it.
“I believe in keeping implants in place for as long as possible, unless you develop a problem,” she explains. “The problems that you might develop are almost always cosmetic. You might have rippling or you might have capsular contracture. You are not going to develop a medical health issue if your implant shell has a tear in it, so there really isn’t any reason to have unnecessary surgery.”
Ten Years vs. a Lifetime
Patients today hear a lot of false information about changing out breast implants after ten years, which is largely based on old studies of early generation implants. The confusion is reinforced by the fact that all three manufacturers of implants in the United States have warranties that are tied to a period of ten years.
If an implant develops a flaw or a tear, the manufacturer will replace the implant forever, for free. However, if you develop a leak in the ten years following your initial surgery, “They will also give you some financial reimbursement to help offset the cost of a revision surgery,” explains Pfeifer. “As a result, this ten year thing is reinforced in people’s minds. They think they need to replace their implants after ten years, and you honestly don’t need to do it.
Will My Implants Get Moldy If I Don’t Change Them?
There have also been rumors circulating the Internet about breast implants developing a fungus within the body. According to Dr. Pfeifer, this is another example of false information surrounding breast surgery that doesn’t pertain to today’s modern silicone implants. The case of the fungus in question occurred when saline implants were not properly filled in a closed, sterile manner. “That really is passé and is not anything to worry about,” assures Pfeifer.
As noted in this article, patients curious in breast augmentation should seek out an experienced, board certified plastic surgeon to have their questions answered. There are many myths and half-truths regarding the procedure and only through an expert can fears my allayed, fears that may have kept would-be patients out of consultation. For those curious, there has never been a better time to seek a breast augmentation procedure.