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The Risks Of Breast Implants

The furor over whether silicone breast implants cause systemic disease has died down since abundant data has shown no increase in systemic illness in women with silicone breast implants versus those without implants. However, women still need to be aware that breast implant surgery carries serious potential risks.

All surgeries have risks. In addition to the risks of anesthesia that go hand in hand with any surgery, it is widely known that elective breast implant procedures carry risks. These risks include implant leakage, implant contraction, and scar tissue build-up. For many women, this means dissatisfaction with their appearance, health risks, and repeated surgeries.

Most plastic surgeons inform their patients, in advance, of these risks. Federal health officials are concerned that these risks are downplayed by surgeons or by patients excited by the prospect of enlarging their breasts. To address this concern, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted photographs online at www.fda.gov/cdrh/breastimplants showing what a woman's breast may look like when implants leak or cause other problems such as capsular contracture (when scar tissue around the implant tightens enough to cause painful breast disfigurement); deflation; or wrinkling and sagging if problematic implants are removed but not replaced.

Saline-filled implants are the only implant option for most women. Nearly 130,000 women received them in 1999 alone, most for purely cosmetic reasons. Because of concerns about the safety of silicone implants, the FDA put a moratorium on silicone-gel filled breast implants in 1992 except for women who enroll in strictly controlled clinical trials. In May, the FDA ruled that saline-filled breast implants could continue selling even though they rupture at high rates, as long as women are informed that one in six will require additional surgery within three years to fix problems. The FDA requires surgeons to provide brochures detailing those risks before surgery. Critics contend that by the time women visit a surgeon, most have already decided to get the implants and won't heed doctors' warnings.

For more information on these risks, click here.

Created: 10/25/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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