Silicone breast implants: facts vs. fear
For years, stories have swirled in the media about whether silicone breast implants cause cancer or connective tissue diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Complicating matters was that no long-term safety reports on the implants existed. This is because they were introduced before 1976, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first ruled that medical devices had to be tested before being offered to the public.
About 15 years after the FDA received authority over medical devices, many women with silicone implants came forward with health problems. The FDA asked companies to stop selling them until the claims could be examined through scientific studies. The only exception was women undergoing reconstruction for breast cancer surgery, since they would be carefully followed in a controlled clinical study. "At the time, women wanting breast implants for cosmetic reasons could only opt for saline or saltwater-filled implants," explains William Franckle, MD, Virtua reconstructive and plastic surgeon.
Reassuring, reliable results
To find out if silicone implants were indeed safe, Congress asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of NIH, took the lead and embarked on a comprehensive study to examine the long-term health effects of silicone implants. It involved 13,500 women and lasted for an average of 13 years.
To date, the results of this important NCI study have found no conclusive evidence that silicone breast implants cause connective tissue disorders. Equally important, the study shows that silicone breast implants are not linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
The effects of implants on mammography
Another concern women have about implants is whether they affect getting an accurate mammogram. Dr. Franckle explains: "When an implant is placed under the large muscle in the front of the chest wall, performance of mammography is not much different from that in the non-augmented breast."
New technology and design
Eric Miller, MD, Virtua surgeon says: "Over the past decade, the design of silicone breast implants has improved dramatically. The newest silicone implants have a stronger outside silicone shell than previous designs; rupture is less likely. In addition, the new designs are filled with a jellylike silicone that holds together far better than previous implants. If rupture occurs, the newer gel tends to hold together within the shell of the implant."
Silicone breast implants are now available to all women who choose them for either reconstructive or cosmetic uses. Your surgeon can help you choose whether silicone or saline implants are right for you. Many women prefer silicone implants for their more natural look and feel.
To make an appointment with a Virtua surgeon, call 1-888-Virtua-3.
William C. Franckle, MD, is a board-certified plastic surgeon who graduated from UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He completed residencies in surgery and plastic surgery at Cooper Medical Center and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Eric Miller, MD, is a board-certified surgeon specializing in breast and melanoma surgery. Dr. Miller graduated from Hahnemann University School of Medicine. He completed a surgical residency at New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Miller earned a fellowship in surgical oncology from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Food and Drug Administration
National Cancer Institute
National Institutes of Health