DO BREAST IMPLANTS EXPIRE? by: Vincent Lepore MD
This question comes up all the time, and in different ways: Do breast implants have an ‘expiration date’?
Recently, our office hosted a beauty and wellness event. People were able to circulate through a number of booths showcasing makeup, skincare, relaxation, and medical products and devices, including breast implants.
One person began a Q & A with the implant representative from Allergan: “Is it true that I need to have my implants replaced after 10 years?” And, it literally ‘took off’ from there. Patients and potential patients, product reps, and the doctor (me), all weighing in.
First- here’s the easy part of the answer:
NO. There is no hard and fast rule, no set expiration date, no firm ‘shelf life’ for breast implants– meaning, they will last indefinitely.
On the other hand, although they could last a lifetime, it doesn’t mean that your breast implants will last forever.
WHAT ARE THE AVERAGES FOR IMPLANT LIFE?
On the average, considering all types of implant, they last between 10 and 25 years. Within that range, some may need replacement sooner, and some will last far longer, many indeed, for a lifetime. Another statistic, it’s reported that less than 3 percent of implants will ‘fail,’ as in rupture or deflation.
WHAT CAUSES IMPLANTS TO ‘FAIL’ AND HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THEY DO?
There are a number of reasons that a breast implant, whether cosmetic or reconstructive, will fail. Usually, the causes are leakage, or rupture. Whether a breast implant is filled with saline (salt water solution), or silicone, the outer shell is made of a strong form of silicone. Although made to withstand extreme pressure and heat, the outer shell can sometimes break or be subject to puncture.
A patient with saline implants, is likely to notice a problem more quickly. If there is a leak or rupture, the water solution will be released from the implant shell, and a change in breast size, or a change in implant feel may be noted pretty rapidly. The saline is a safe solution, that is simply absorbed by the body. It’s true that saline implants are a bit more likely to experience rupture or leaking, than the silicone variety.
Patients with silicone implants might have a different experience. First, a word about what’s inside. Today’s silicone implants are almost always made with what’s known as cohesive silicone gel. Meaning, that it stays together in a one-piece structure, no matter what. If you slice through a cohesive silicone gel implant, you will see two halves that will maintain their shape and consistency. Implants made from this material were given the nickname “gummy bears” because of their similarities in feel- to the popular candy.
Cohesive silicone gel implants are very strong, durable, and resistant to pressure and heat. If a rupture were to occur, a patient might notice a change in size or shape of the breast. In the event of a rupture, the silicone inside the implant- does not migrate elsewhere in the body.
OTHER CONTRIBUTING CAUSES?
There are some other possible contributors to the life of your implants. Scar tissue is one of them. All surgery, all incisions, will cause scarring. We’re able to minimize the appearance of external scars to a very great degree. The body handles internal scarring a little differently. Depending on the individual, a significant scar “capsule” may form around what the body sees as a foreign object. The capsule may become thick and hard, and can actually push the implant up and out of place. The displacement may cause folding or wrinkling, putting added pressure on the implant, both inside and out.
We wish we had an easy way to predict who will develop ‘capsular contractures’ and who won’t. It’s something that varies with the individual. In these cases, the remedy is to undergo surgery to remove the scar tissue, open the capsule, and replace the implant with a new one.
The natural changes of our bodies as we age and experience life, may also affect breast implants. Weight gain or loss may alter the way an implant will appear; as well as pregnancy and breast feeding.
WHAT ABOUT REPLACEMENT?
Patients choose to replace their implants for all sorts of reasons, not just because of implant failure. The body changes mentioned above, for instance. Many will want a smaller or larger implant, to achieve better balance if they’ve gained or lost weight. Many will choose an implant with a different filling, and combine the replacement with a breast lift, or reduction.
And, many will simply choose to have the implants removed, usually along with a breast lift.
WHAT IF I’M NOT SURE AND I HAVE CONCERNS?
We always recommend keeping an ongoing relationship with your Board Certified Plastic Surgeon. Make an appointment to have your implants checked if you have any concerns. We see patients coming back yearly, or after 10 years, just for a chat and a quick check. Many patients may also want further reassurance, through imaging, such as MRI, for a definitive look at the state of their implants.
Also keep in mind that breast implant manufacturers warranty their products for 10 years. But don’t confuse the warranty timeframe, with the life of your implants. As we said, they may develop problems at 10 years or sooner, but they may well last a lifetime.
[Dr. Vincent Lepore is a Board Certified, Stanford-trained Plastic Surgeon. He performs Breast Augmentation, Breast Reconstruction, Breast Lift and Reduction, Removal and Replacement of Breast Implants, and all ranges of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.]