Risk Of Leakage In Newer Cohesive Gel Silicone Breast Implants?

I've read a lot of reviews on silicone breast implants, revisions and videos on youtube related to these, and what I really want to know is, when the new silicone implants rupture, do they leak into your body? I've read horror stories about the silicone traveling to lymph nodes and people having to have them cut out, etc. I'm wondering however, if these are the older ones because of the difference in texture and viscosity was much different than the cohesive gel available today, preventing this?

Doctor Answers 7

Silicone Gel-filled Breast Implant Failure Rate and Complications

Silicone Gel-filled Breast Implant Failure Rate

A detailed answer to your questions deals with several factors including shell failure, capsular integrity, and silicone chemistry. I apologize a head of time if this bores you.

A very rough estimate of implant failure is about 1% per year. This estimate holds true for the earlier years, but since breast implants are not considered permanent medical devices, the failure rate does increase as the implant ages.

In June 2011 the FDA published a report entitled, FDA Update on the Safety of Silicone Gel-Filled Breast Implants, which served to provide an update of the clinical information about the silicone gel breast implants approved in November 2006.

As a condition of approval, the FDA required the implant manufactures to conduct several post-approval studies, including: (1) the Core Study, (2) the Large Study, (3) and a Device Failure Study. These studies also evaluated breast revision and reconstruction patients, but I have not included that material here.

The Core Study followed women with silicone gel-filled breast implants enrolled in “pre-approval” studies (conducted before the approval of gel implants), which involved follow-up clinical assessments of patients at 6 months, 1 year, and then annually for a total of 10 years. Participants were assigned to either an MRI group or a non-MRI group. Participants in the MRI group received MRIs on a specific schedule to screen for rupture, but the timing of the MRI assessments and the methods of assigning participants differed between the manufacturers. The cumulative incidence of rupture rates among Allergan implants in the MRI group 10 years after primary augmentation was 10.1% (7.4% - 13.7% at 95% confidence intervals). The cumulative incidence of rupture rates among Mentor implants at 8 years after primary augmentation was 13.6 % (7.6% - 23.6% at 95% confidence intervals).

The Large Study was started shortly after the FDA approved the use of silicone gel-filled breast implants in November 2006. The Large Study was designed to be large enough to address issues that the Core Studies could not answer, and to provide a real-world assessment of some outcomes of silicone gel-filled breast augmentation. The purpose of the Large Study is to determine the incidence of complications and other adverse outcomes - including local complications, rupture, connective tissue disease, cancer, effects on mammography, in addition to several others.

Allergan’s Large Study enrolled 41,342 women with silicone gel-filled breast implants, and a control group of 15,646 women with saline-filled breast implants. Allergan initiated patient enrollment in February 2007 and closed enrollment in March 2010. Two years after implantation, the participant follow-up rate was 60.5% for silicone gel-filled breast implant participants and 45.1% for saline breast implant participants. The latest published results are from 2010. The 2-year cumulative incidence of implant failure is 0.5% for silicone gel-filled breast implants and 2.5% for saline breast implants. Data collection is ongoing.

Mentor’s Large Study enrolled 41,975 women with silicone gel-filled breast implants and a control group of 1,030 women with saline-filled breast implants. Mentor initiated patient enrollment in February 2007, and closed enrollment in July 2009. Three years after implantation, the participant follow-up rate was 21.1% for silicone gel-filled breast implant participants and 9.6% for saline breast implant participants. The latest results are from 2010 and include data for all participants with 3 years of follow-up. The 3-year cumulative incidence of implant failure is 0.2% for primary augmentation patients. Data collection is ongoing. The results of both Large Studies are somewhat limited by a low follow-up rate. The FDA and manufacturers are working to encourage patients to continue their participation in these studies.

The purpose of the Device Failure Study is to evaluate silicone gel-filled breast implants that have been removed (for what ever reason) and returned to the manufacturers; the manufacturers are to document and record the mode of failure in hopes of improving implant design and surgical techniques for placement. Each manufacturer is required to conduct studies of all returned devices until both the Core Study and the Large Study are completed. Again, the data collection and analysis varies by manufacturer.

Allergan has evaluated 2,665 returned devices: 900 (33.8 %) had openings in the shell. Of the devices with an opening in the shell: 51 (1.9 %) devices had fold flaws; 26 devices (1 %) had manufacturing defects; 487 (18.3 %) had some sort of surgical-related damage; and 336 (12.6 %) had openings for which the cause could not be determined.

Mentor recorded their data differently. Among patients participating in the Mentor Large Study, 62 silicone gel-filled breast implants have been evaluated: 27 devices (43.5 %) had openings in the shell. Of the devices with an opening in the shell: 12 (19.4%) were damaged by sharp instruments; and 15 (24.2%) had openings of unknown cause. Among Core Study participants, 97 devices were returned to Mentor: 24 devices (24.7%) had openings in the shell. Of the devices with an opening in the shell: 8 (8.2%) were damaged by sharp instruments; 2 (2.1%) had partial delamination in the shell or patch junction; and 14 (14.4%) had openings of unknown cause.

These studies all deal with moderately cohesive silicone gel-filled breast implants, identical to the ones used today. Understanding and comparing failure rates is difficult because the two manufacturers conduct their studies differently, so it is often not an apples-to-apples comparison when reviewing the data. But this should give you some idea as to the incidence of failure, and its causes.

Silicones are polymerized chains that include the elements silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) in a repeating backbone, together with carbon and hydrogen. Because of the repeating (… -Si-O-Si-O-Si-O-Si-O- …) units, silicones are referred to more scientifically as polymerized siloxanes or polysiloxanes. The simplest and most common silicone/polysiloxane is linear polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). Common forms of silicone (of different consistencies) include silicone oil, silicone grease, silicone rubber, and silicone resin.

Liquid silicones are comprised of short chains of PDMS with very little cross-linking between chains; they have the consistency of an oily fluid.  Silicone gels are composed of longer PDMS chains and some degree of cross-linking between chains. The viscosity and cohesiveness of a silicone gel increases as the PDMS chain length and degree of cross-linking increases.  The consistency of silicone gels vary widely from a soft, sticky gel with more fluid-like properties to a firm, cohesive gel exhibiting shape retention or form-stability.  Today, the silicone gel used to fill breast implants has a rather consistent polymer length with a rough average of 335 dimethylsiloxane units. The silicone gel filler in 2nd generation implants (prevalent in the 1980s) was comprised of some slightly shorter polymer chains, with less cross-linking between chains; this accounted for the thinner lower cohesive nature of this gel filler. As the silicone gel fillers have increased in viscosity and cohesiveness the degree of cross-linking has increased; the primary difference between a “moderately cohesive” 4th generation gel (currently approved) and a “form-stable” 5th generation gel (investigational, gummi bear) is the increased amount of cross-linking between the silicone polymer chains.

No one can give a specific answer about what exactly happens to the silicone gel when an implant shell fails. The rate and amount of gel exiting the lumen of the implant depends upon the mechanism of failure, the size of the hole in the implant shell, and the age of the failure. The gel matrix of the current (4th generation) silicone gel-filled implants is certainly more cohesive than that of the 2nd generation gel-filled implants used in the 1980s. Although the flow characteristics of these gels are difficult to describe, those older implants certainly had more of an ‘oozy’ consistency. I recognize that the word ‘ooze’ is perhaps not the best description, but it does help convey the consistency of this gel. History has shown that these 2nd generation implants have the highest failure rate of any silicone gel-filled device. When these implants have failed, at the time of surgical removal, there is often a significant amount of gel that has leaked outside the shell. It is easy to see that in a situation where capsular integrity is lost, this less cohesive gel will more easily travel (ooze) to an extracapsular location. The gel inside a current 4th generation implant has some structure due to the moderately cohesive nature this matrix; it is thicker, has a tendency to stick together and partially maintain its shape. In other words it has less of that ‘oozing’ consistency.

The inflammation associated with a long-standing silicone gel failure may lead to loss of capsular integrity and allow the gel to leak from the capsule. However, it is important to note that surgeon’s used to treat capsular contracture with a procedure called a closed capsulotomy. This is a rather barbaric technique where the women’s breast is squeezed with a significant amount of pressure to rupture the capsule. Since silicone gel failure can lead to capsular contracture, it is easy to understand that a closed capsulotomy may have been an easy way to inadvertently allow leaking gel to escape outside the capsule and enter surrounding tissues. From there gel could slowly migrate to numerous locations. Closed capsulotomies are no longer recommended.

The question of silicone traveling to other areas is therefore related to the integrity of the capsule surrounding the breast implant. As long as this capsule remains intact, any silicone gel outside the implant will not be able to escape to the surrounding tissues. Some consider the capsule to be rather protective in that manner, and failure of a silicone gel implant is not an emergency. Some physicians have different opinions about the urgency with which a failed silicone gel should be replaced. It is my recommendation that a failed silicone gel implant be replaced, sooner rather than later; and women are usually happy to follow these recommendations.

The current devices and surgical techniques have evolved. These improvements make the ‘horror stories’ you refer to much less likely. I hope this is helpful and puts things in perspective. Best wishes, Kenneth Dembny

Milwaukee Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 34 reviews

Leaking cohesive gel breast implants

As a rule, all breast implants leak, and a leak occurs when the implant envelop or shell fractures or tears. The shell is made of silicone rubber, a different creature than silicone gel. Cohesive gel, or silicone gel that sticks together resist leaking out from the shell and the natural scar capsule around the implant, but a leak is a leak and implant should be replaced as capsular contracture often follows. None of the gels will 'go through' your body and what your have heard are indeed 'stories'.

Best of luck, peterejohnsonmd.com

Peter E. Johnson, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

Newest cohesive silicone gel implants won't leak, but rupture (very rare) is possible.

The newest generation of silicone gel implants (by both manufacturers in the US) consist of a strong silicone elastomer shell surrounding a cohesive silicone gel filler that is a soft, rubbery, solid--sort of like Jello, but not an oozing, liquid substance like older implants (the ones sometimes featured on TV and now YouTube videos).

If these implants were ever to sustain enough trauma (you would have to be in a pretty nasty situation yourself to damage your implants while in your body) to cause the shell to rupture, the gel "sticks together" and is easily removed to replace the implant. I personally do not believe that periodic MRI scans are appropriate for an asymptomatic breast implant patient without any sort of problems, especially since these scans are INCORRECT 21% of the time and lead to unnecessary operations for implants that turn out to be perfectly intact and fine.

Rather, I think that if one of my patients has a concern or issue with her implants, then I can examine the implant at the time of surgery to correct whatever the concern is, and diagnose whether it is ruptured or intact under direct vision, which is 100% accurate! Since I have all implants of all sizes and profile available in our surgical facility, I can immediately replace it if necessary--no charge!

You ask reasonable questions, and volumes have been written about this topic. Unfortunately, lots of "junk science" and urban myth discussion has entered the public domain, and it's hard to separate fact and good science from all of the baloney. You want good information about something that may be put into your body, and are to be congratulated for asking incisive and good questions. Just don't believe every "horror story" out there as being worthy of serious inclusion in your fact-finding.

For a start, please read my article (on the about tab of my profile page) titled: "Are Silicone Breast Implants Safe?" Please also understand that saline implants have their own set of pros and cons, all of which can be discussed by an experienced ABPS-certified plastic surgeon who does lots of breast augmentation surgeries, not just a few dozen a year. Seek several out and get all the information you need. Best wishes!

Richard H. Tholen, MD, FACS
Minneapolis Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 255 reviews

Silicone implants are not liquid

The concept of cohesiveness relates to the thickness or viscosity of the gel. Modern gel implants have the consistency lets say of jello, so as such, when the shell fails, they do not leak like saline implants. It's more like breaking a piece of sticky jello. The truly cohesive implants know as gummy bear implants which are not yet available for general use in the US, are thicker still, hence the term gummy bear. It is possible for small microscopic amounts of gel to be found in the local lymph nodes and the surrounding tissues, but with modern implants the issue of enlarged nodes is almost unheard of. This was more of an issue with earlier implants where the consistency of the gel was thinner and more liquid.

Jeffrey Hartog, MD
Orlando Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 60 reviews

Breast implant leakage

Thank you for your question.  The new cohesive silicone implants have a relatively low rate of rupture, especially compared to the older gel implants.  And if they do rupture they usually stay confined to the breast capsule itself.  This allows the implant to remain within the breast space and not travel throughout the body.  

Bill Kortesis, MD
Charlotte Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 90 reviews

Risk Of Leakage In Newer Cohesive Gel Silicone Breast Implants?Answer:

The old silicone was more like syrup and when the implant broke it leaked out like an egg yolk, and could be seen on regular mammogram. The new one are more cohesive and when they break they just sit there and when you do pull one of the new ones out, it has a tendency to come out in one big piece rather then strings of silicone. Much better but really only seen on MRI

John J. Corey, MD
Phoenix Plastic Surgeon
4.6 out of 5 stars 44 reviews

Cohesive gel implants

Cohesive gel implants are a different viscosity than traditional implants( memory gel,etc.)  They do not specifically leak they are form stabile.

Steven Wallach, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.1 out of 5 stars 28 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.