Breast Implants Removal Surgery: Will You Need One?


Jill Daniels, Freelance Medical Writer

Jill Daniels is a freelance health writer based in New York City. She spent several years writing for WebMD, including their Weight Loss Clinic and Fertility Center programs. Jill has also written/reported for publications including InStyle, People and Women's Own. She received a degree in journalism for Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

March 25 2008

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Cars have warranties, toasters have warranties, and--guess what--so do many breast implants. That's because, like many things, breast implants don't typically last forever.

According to the American Society of Plastic surgeons, breast augmentation topped the list of the most popular cosmetic procedures in 2006 with 329,000 procedures performed. Yet despite the frequency at which breast augmentation is being performed, there is no medical consensus on how long breast implants last. Unfortunately, because of the lack of data, women may not be prepared for the fact that getting breast implants is typically not a one-time surgery. There are women who have had breast implants for more than 25 years with no problem. But in many cases, women who have received breast implants need to have at least one or more additional surgeries – often within 3 to 5 years – to replace the breast implants, to remove them, or to take care of problems created by them.

The upkeep of breast implants means there are continual costs involved. Unfortunately, health insurance doesn't necessarily kick in to cover the cost of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests (which are very important to detect silicone leaks and ruptures) or the reoperations that may be required.

Most common reasons for breast implant removal and/or replacement surgery:

  • Tears can occur in both saline and silicone implants causing saline implants to deflate like a water balloon and causing silicone to leak.
  • Scar tissue can form around the implant and harden, the condition called capsular contracture, causing pain and sometimes deforming the breasts.
  • Saline implants can show rippling beneath the skin
  • Changes in the implant can occur, including distortions of shape or implant hardening
  • The natural course of aging and gravity can affect the shape and appearance of the implant.

So, if trouble appears, who's responsible?

Breast Implant Warranty
Both leading U.S. breast implant manufacturers Allergan Inc. and Mentor Corporation offer warranties to their customers if there's a problem with the breast implant itself. Allergan automatically enrolls recipients of its Natrelleā„¢ breast implant products in a warranty program that includes a lifetime product replacement, 10 years of guaranteed financial assistance, and up to $1,200 in out-of-pocket expenses for surgical fees, operating room and anesthesia expenses not covered by insurance. For $100 more, people can choose to upgrade their breast implant warranty. Similarly, Mentor automatically enrolls recipients of its products in a warranty that includes a lifetime product replacement policy (with certain limitations), 10 years and up to $1,200 financial assistance for operating room, anesthesia and surgical charges not covered by insurance. And, again, for an additional $100, the warranty can be upgraded. Both Allergan and Mentor have websites detailing the breast implant warranties available.

While these warranties can certainly help defray costs of extra surgeries, it's important to read the terms and conditions. It's also important to take into account the costs that may accumulate due to lost wages, travel, etc. if multiple surgeries are required.

Breast Implants Gone Bad
It's likely you've heard at least one horror story about breast implants gone bad – or one tale of a woman whose implants ruptured. While we don't know all the causes of breast implant rupture, we do know that implants can rupture from the following:

  • Excessive force or trauma caused to the chest
  • Damage that occurs during implantation or during other surgical procedures
  • Wrinkling or folding of the implant shell, which causes the shell to weaken
  • Compression of the breast during a mammogram screening

Who Should You Turn To If Trouble Arises?
If there is a problem with an implant, it's important to remember that the surgeon who performed the original surgery is not necessarily the best person to remove or replace the implant. Removal of breast implants can be a great deal more complicated (and expensive) than the original surgery. Some plastic surgeons specialize in removal and are more experienced at cleaning up any silicone that may have leaked and reconstructing the breasts after implant removal.

It is recommended that women with breast implants have frequent mammograms or ultrasounds to help determine any possible implant leakage. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that women with silicone-gel filled implants undergo an MRI every few years to help detect silicone leakage. It is also helpful for women with implants to have a yearly exam by a board-certified  surgeon to make sure their implants are in good shape. Maintaining a relationship with your plastic surgeon can definitely be advantageous, especially since you should return for follow-up care at prescribed intervals.

Ongoing Studies
Although silicone-filled implants have been back on the market since 2006, the FDA still requires that Mentor and Allergan, the makers of silicone breast implants, continue clinical studies called Core Studies to determine any possible complications and assess the long-term clinical performance of their products. The Core Studies will continue until all study participants have completed their 10-year evaluation. In addition, the FDA is requiring a separate 10-year post-approval study to be conducted involving approximately 40,000 recipients of silicone gel-filled breast implants and a control group of recipients of saline-filled breast implants.

The bottom line is that breast implants are not items that never need maintenance and check-ups. Although breast implants usually last for many years, a woman who gets them should expect to have them removed and replaced one or more times during her life.