Are Today's Breast Implants Safer Than They Were 15 Years Ago?

I have 15 year old silicone breast implants. Are today’s silicone implants any safer? I have been ill on and off ever since having the implants, but now I am sick most of the time.

I have had blood results back which say that I have high levels of silicone and high levels of nickel in my blood. I am not ready to live life without boobs, but I don’t want to be ill for the rest of my life. So as you can see, I need to weigh the odds. This brings me back to the question above, are the silicone breast implants today any safer than they were 15 years ago?

Doctor Answers 13

Research says no link but you are sick; so what are options?

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

I can appreciate your frustration: the research says there should be no link between your symptoms and silicone implants yet you have these problems.

In your situation, it really comes down to you ulimately making the choice as to which is worse, no breast implants, or breast implants with problems. It's a difficult choice and one only you can make. We, as professionals, can quote you the literature and tell you there is no association but it is your body and you feel there is definitely some causation.

To answer your question, about whether the implants are any safer, I would say generally, no, but we know a heck of a lot more about them now. In fact, some of the same implants that were devleoped in 1985 are being used today; the so-called third generation or memory gel implants. All implants bleed silicone similar to the way an intact balloon "bleeds" air and slowly deflates overnight without any rupture or holes. This would take a million years for a silicone implant but small amounts of silicone do leech through the outer membrane and may be responsible for capuslar contracture and your blood levels of silicone.

A lot of research has gone into altering the membrane to make it less permeable (leaky) and diminish silicone gel "bleed". We feel this has improved the overall safety of the implants. However, please realize that even when bleed occurs, most of our research tells us that it is essentially inconsequential on a microscopic basis to your overall health. I know this jives with your findings and overall condition but therein lies the problem.

In my mind your options are: tolerance, removal, or saline replacement.

IN ANY EVENT AT 15 YEARS POST-AUGMETNATION, PLEASE GET AN MRI TO EVALUATE IMPLANT INTEGRITY. If your implants are ruptured, this is all a moot point and you should remove the implants.

I hope this helps!

Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 86 reviews


{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

Scientific studies have shown no link between the implants and illnesses. Still, some people do seem to be adversely affected by them. One thing you could consider is saline implants. Otherwise, I feel that the newer gel implants are less likely to "bleed" through the implant wall.

Breast implants are safe

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

Silicone implants of any age have not been found to cause any disease. The illnesses that we were concerned were linked to the implants have been found to be just as common in women without implants as with silicone implants. The FDA has published all the pertinent data.

That being said, today's implants are much less likely to leak than the old implants. The old implants had a very thin outer shell that could rupture easily. They were filled with liquid silicone and caused a big mess if they leaked.

The current implant design is approximately 8 years old. The shell is much tougher and the silicone inside is a cohesive gel, meaning that if the implant should rupture the gel sticks together and does not run everywhere.

In an MRI study, the leak rate of these new silicone implants at seven years was less than 1%.

John Squires, MD
Denver Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 82 reviews

Silicone gel breast implants

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

15 years ago, the breast implants were well designed. I personally don't think they are much safer than they were then.

Have you considered saline implants? Although studies don't warrant an association between autoimmune diseases and silicone breast implants, there is no liquid silicone in saline implants.

That being said, if your implants are 15 years old, they may be due for replacement. Your plastic surgeon can go over the risks/benefits and detection methods for silent rupture of silicone gel implants if you have not done so already.

You shouldn't count on regaining your health simply as a result of removing the old silicone implants.

Brent Moelleken, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 195 reviews

Silicone Implant Safety - Then and Now

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}
I am so sorry that you are suffering from your unidentified illness but it would be rare to be related to your implants. Here are the answers to your question and a whole lot more information to back up the statements I will make.
The major change of silicone breast implants is that they are all to a degree cohesive regardless of manufacturer since 2006. That being said, Silicone implants from American Companies have always been safe and NOT related or causing systemic disease processes except possibly in very rare circumstances.
To answer the perceived safety and toxicity issues of Silicone by the general public; this is quite a different matter. Breast  implants have been around since the 1960’s. About 15 years ago Connie Chung ran an expose,"Face to Face with Connie Chung."  claiming silicone implants were responsible for different health problems.  This led to lawsuits a huge windfall for lawyers and the subsequent ban on silicone implants for first time breast augmentation patients went into effect.They were always available for breast reconstruction (e.g. after mastectomy)and replacement of existing silicone breasts. Also please note that saline implants are still covered by a silicone envelope.   Soon after, a ban on silicone implant use became worldwide.  This lasted for years until more than 100 clinical studies showed that breast implants don’t cause cancer, lupus, scleroderma, other connective tissue diseases,or a host of other problems.June 1999. The Institute of Medicine released a 400-page report prepared by an independent committee of 13 scientists. They concluded that although silicone breast implants may be responsible for localized problems such as hardening or scarring of breast tissue, implants do not cause any major diseases such as depression,chronic fatigue syndrome,  lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, etc.. The Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences is the nation's most prestigious scientific organization.  In June 1999, The Institute of Medicine released a 400-page report prepared by an independent committee of 13 scientists. They concluded that although silicone breast implants  although may be responsible for localized problems such as hardening or scarring of breast tissue, they do not cause any major diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Eventually, a federal judge dismissed/rejected the lawsuits, declaring them junk science and ended for the most part the barrage of lawsuits  This led to the present re-introduction of silicone implants years ago and their approval by the FDA.  Interestingly enough, most of the rest of the world re-introduced them many years prior to the USA doing so.
I happened to be in private practice in Orange County, California during this time of confusion by the public and media.. My office was deluged with patients, mostly new ones having had surgery elsewhere, believing they were being poisoned by their breast implants.Most of my consults lasted about an hour and were spent trying to convince patients that they did NOT need surgery. In fact I told them that they would not even have to pay for the consultation if they decided to not have surgery.Most of the patients had no problems but were simply gripped with general panic,mass hysteria and fear from all the media hype and false information. Despite my strong advice to not remove their implants, many insisted upon that action. As a footnote -The vast majority of these patients that I removed implants eventually returned to my office for silicone gel replacement.

Safer Breast Implants

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

I think there are subtle differences from now to 15 years ago. At that time some of the silicone shells were made with a platinum curing technique that yielded more ruptures. Also the silicone gel inside the implants then was more watery or running, whereas now it is thicker or more cohesive. The difference with that is in the case of a rupture of the shell the silicone does not move out as easily. In general they are safe, whether 15 years ago or the present day, but I think there are small differences that make the ones today have a slight advantage.

Julio Garcia, MD
Las Vegas Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 27 reviews

Silicone Implants

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

Silicone implants do not cause autoimmune disorders or malaise. This was proven in numerous scientific articles in the literature. As to the question related to the implant itself, I think that the implants today are very similar to the implnats of 10-15 years ago, perhaps the shell is slightly better today.

Steven Wallach, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.2 out of 5 stars 30 reviews

Todays breast implants have a lower bleed or leak than in the past

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

Breast implants manufactured and approved by the FDA today do indeed have lower leakage rates or silicone bleed than the implants used in the past. Improvements have been made in the shell or envelope of the implant which is more durable and less prone to rupture, and the covering itself will not allow as much leakage through the shell called silicone bleed. Silicone leakage is a cause of firmness or capsular contracture and can cause the implants to become stiff and uncomfortable over time. The newer implants also contain a gel that is more cohesive which sticks to itself and reduces the leak rate.

Despite the improvements in time all silicone gel implants will wear and leak. The FDA has recommended a schedule to follow for MRI studies which may help detect an early leak and indication for replacement of the implants.

The new implants while more durable are not necessarily safer as there are no known illness related to the silicone gel breast implant. After extensive studies we now have a better idea of how long implants will last, and what occurs when the implant has worn. No implant lasts forever and all require regular examination and replacement when wear does develop.

After 15 years it is very likely that your implants are due for replacement. If you feel stressed and are troubled that the gel might be making you sick you may feel better in choosing a saline implant to replace the gels you are currently wearing. You need not give up the breast implants which as we know from other patients can be very hard to do. The peace of mind should do you good.

Best of luck,


Peter E. Johnson, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon
4.0 out of 5 stars 44 reviews

Yes, today's implants are safer

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

The implant companies have put lots of Research and Development into making a product that is stronger and less likely to leak. You can rest assured that you can replace your old implants with the new cohesive gel implants and they will not have a negative effect on your health. Just for fun, if you have a chance you should see the videos my staff made to show our patients how strong the new implants are. Good luck!

Thomas T. Nguyen, MD
Orange County Plastic Surgeon

Technology does improve

{{ voteCount >= 0 ? '+' + (voteCount + 1) : (voteCount + 1) }}

Breast implant technology has improved over time. However, the symptoms you are describing have not been proven to be related to silicone implants. Therefore, replacing your implants with new ones are not expected to help relieve your symptoms. Discuss your concerns with your plastic surgeon prior to deciding on surgery. One option would be implant removal and replacement some time later to see if your symptoms resolve.

Bahram Ghaderi, MD
Chicago Plastic Surgeon

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.