It’s been said no medical device has been studied more for safety more than the breast implant. The scientific conclusions remain consistent that implants, saline and silicone, do not cause bodily harm. That said, what if there are problems that accompany implant surgery? One board certified plastic surgeon says if and when there are associated problems with implants, it’s most likely due to possible surgical complications, not the implants, that may be the source of a woman’s complaints.
The last thing women who opt to get breast implants ever consider is ever having them removed. As many as 40,000 women do undergo breast implant removal surgery every year. The reasons vary:
- Dissatisfaction with implants
- Complications, such as capsular contracture
- Fears about breast implant-related anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)
Some women may react adversely to implants and may develop an infection or bleed as a result. And, certainly, a diagnosis of breast cancer may also require breast implants to be removed.
A Surgeon’s First Step: Listen
Dr. Robert Whitfield is a board certified plastic surgeon practicing in Austin. He routinely performs breast surgery procedures in his practice, from pure augmentation to revision and, notably, breast reconstruction following mastectomy. During the past few years he has also become a resource for women seeking to have their implants removed.
The debate is contentious – whether implants cause illness or not. The implants themselves almost certainly do not, but their existence in the body, coupled with the complexity of human physiology and biochemistry, may have unseen side effects. It takes patience and empathy to sit down and listen to breast augmentation patients who can’t exactly pinpoint what’s the matter, but know that something is amiss.
“I just try to listen and figure out what is going on,” Dr. Whitfield explains. “What are their symptoms and what can I offer them? And to that end, I’ve had a lot of success treating these patients. These are patients with really high satisfaction rates after surgery.”
If A Problem is Discovered, It’s Related to Infections
Dr. Whitfield believes in the safety of breast implants. When he agrees to investigate why a woman’s implants are causing her problems big enough to want them surgically removed, it’s usually after other physicians have also tried to pinpoint the issue. “I’m usually not the first person who has tried to figure out what the problems are,” he shares.
“When they have exhausted all the medical options, they kind of look at the implant as a foreign body and try to have it removed,” Dr. Whitfield says. “I found these to have, upon close examination, cultures of bacteria, so they really did have an infection.”
What Happens During Implant Removal?
Breast implant removal surgery usually takes under an hour to perform, typically using general anesthesia or intravenous sedation. Surgeons usually start by removing scar tissue (the capsule) that surrounds the implant. Next, the implants will be removed. If you chose saline breast implants, your surgeon may deflate them before removal. Breast implants are usually removed through the same incisions that were used for your breast augmentation surgery, meaning no additional scars are necessary.
If you are not replacing the breast implants, the pocket where your original implants existed will seal with time. This occurs more quickly if you wear a breast support or compression garment, which also helps reduce the chances the pocket will fill with fluid.
Not Guaranteed Success, but Symptoms Drastically Reduced
Dr. Whitfield often finds capsular contracture to be at the heart of many complaints. “I found them to have capsular contracture, significant amount of scarring, trapping the two pectoral muscles making the range of motion give nerve pain and shoulder dysfunction,” Dr. Whitfield continues. “I will not say that it’s resolved every single person’s symptoms 100 percent of the time, but well above 90 percent of the patients achieve some level of significant symptom relief. “
While it is truly difficult to pinpoint solutions, and a patient saying, “I feel better!” is hardly scientific, it is a real result. “It’s way too high to be a placebo effect. Especially since I’ve seen infections, I treat those people with oral antibiotics,” Dr. Whitfield says. “I use drains in those situations. I’ve found ruptures and leaking silicone is never something good to have floating in your body. So the justification to have the procedure makes sense.
“I think we’ll learn more over the next decade illnesses from this or low grade infections. Technically performing a sound operation at the first encounter, so that you follow these 14 steps I hope we’re all following to be safe and to place these devices so that we reduce these problems for patients.”
Will Insurance Cover Implant Removal?
Insurance may cover the cost of breast implant removal if it is done for a medical reason such an infection, leakage or cancer. Most insurance companies will not cover the cost of new implants following removal. If the cost is prohibitive, discuss financing options with your surgeon.