Breast implants, according to the latest statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), were placed in 300,000 patients in the last year alone. This makes breast augmentation surgery the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the world.
There are a lot of women out there with implants, many of whom may have had their initial surgery while still in their 20’s. Perhaps now, in their 40’s, they are wondering, “When should I have my implants changed?”
According to board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Sean Doherty of Boston, there are really no hard and fast rules when it comes to replacing, exchanging or removing your breast implants. In general? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. With that said, he walks us through the main reasons why his patients do seek an implant exchange, as well as why it’s also vitally important that you see your plastic surgeon annually for a check up.
Timing for Exchanging Your Breast Implants
One of the first questions that plastic surgeons are asked by a breast augmentation patient is, “When do I need to exchange my breast implants?” Dr. Doherty’s answer? “There’s not really a rule for that.”
Many of the pamphlets that patients receive in the doctor’s office will talk about the lifespan of the average breast implant being about 10 years. This “recommendation” to replace your breast implants every decade is actually based on old data. It comes from studies that were done in 2005 and 2006 when silicone gel breast implants first came back on the market. Since then, these devices continue to be updated and improved.
In his practice and the real world, Dr. Doherty finds that patients do not need to exchange their breast implants “unless there is something wrong.”
Reasons to Exchange Your Breast Implants
Most breast augmentation patients are thrilled with their implants; the procedure offers a high patient satisfaction rating. If there is nothing wrong with the implant, there is no need to exchange the device.
However, time does take its toll on the skin and tissues of the body. As the most studied medical device in the world, breast implants today are extremely safe. Patients do not, in general, seek revision breast surgery to replace an implant because it has ruptured. The rupture rate on silicone gel breast implants is actually lower than the already low rupture rate for saline implants, which hovers around 3-5%. While some patients do develop capsular contracture – requiring replacement of their breast implants – most patients tend to want to exchange or remove their implants because:
- their aesthetic has changed over time
- they want to go smaller or bigger
- the implant has shifted position
As we grow older, our aesthetic taste tends to mature. The clothes that you wore at 20 may not longer appeal to you at 40. Chances are that you no longer have the same hairstyle or hair color that you did 10 years ago. Just as fashion evolves with the decades, so does your taste, and this extends to your breast implants.
Oftentimes, especially with patients who got their breast implants young, older breast augmentation patients want to go smaller. In some cases, the patient simply wants to remove the implant all together. This will typically require a breast lift to excise the sagging skin and breast tissue that will remain once a patient downsizes.
Soft Tissue Changes: #1 Reason for Breast Implant Exchange
The skin and tissues of your breast age just like the skin and tissues of the face. So while your implant itself may be fine at 10 years, the soft tissue may not. With time, the soft tissue (the fat and breast tissue covering your implant ) weakens and breaks down because of the following:
- weight fluctuations
- hormone changes
- breast feeding
When this happens, your breast implant may move out of position. Typically, this soft tissue descends and needs to be lifted with either a breast lift or a breast lift with an implant. This is the number one reason why most women have further surgery.
See Your Plastic Surgeon Annually
If you are not experiencing a rupture, capsular contracture or displacement in the implant, there is really no reason to do anything unless you desire a new look with either a smaller or larger implant. The only way to really stay on top of what’s going on with your breast implants is to see your plastic surgeon for an annual exam. This is why it is incredibly important to find a plastic surgeon with the skill and expertise to deliver great results, but also someone who you trust because this is a relationship for life.
“My patients see me once a year,” shares Dr. Doherty. This allows him to examine their breast implants and talk about changes in their health and their body, such as whether or not the patient is going to get pregnant or breast feed. Like any good plastic surgeon, he wants to monitor his patients long term so that if anything does change, he can catch it early.