Confused About Breast Implants? 7 Facts and Tips to Help

A plastic surgeon explains function and limitations

If you’re considering breast implants — whether it’s for breast augmentation or reconstruction after a mastectomy — you may find that it’s confusing to separate fact from fiction and to sort through your options. Knowing the facts about implants and how they work can help you through the process.

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Plastic surgeon Graham Schwarz, MD, shares some facts and tips about breast implants that can help make your choices clearer.

1. Silicone and saline implants are both safe

Despite previous concerns, extensive research has shown that silicone implants are just as safe as saline ones.

2. You can keep your implants — indefinitely

There’s no expiration date on your breast implants.

“There is no good reason to routinely replace an intact implant every 10 years. More than 90 percent of women don’t have any problems at that point and there’s no good data to support it,” Dr. Schwarz says.

“If your implant is silicone-filled, it is recommended to have an MRI test every few years to make sure that it is intact,” he says. “If there is a rupture or leak, then  the implant should be removed or replaced.”

Because manufacturers design silicone gel to stay in place after implant rupture, chances are that you may not notice if there is an issue, Dr. Schwarz says.

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The Food & Drug Administration does recommend medical imaging to check the implant’s integrity beginning at three years and every two years after that.

If yours ruptures, you can opt for a replacement. If your saline implant leaks, your breast size will decrease. So, you may opt to replace it for cosmetic purposes.

3. You might need additional surgery

Over time, life changes could mean that you’ll need additional breast surgeries. As you age, your anatomy alters. If you have children, your size and shape could shift, and your implant could move.

Some women may develop thicker scar tissue that starts to wrap around implants. In those cases, you might need surgery for a replacement or revision.

4. You can breastfeed with implants

Having breast implants doesn’t take away your ability to breastfeed. Women may or may not be able to successfully breastfeed depending on many factors, but there’s no evidence tha breastfeeding is unsafe for you or your baby. Women who have mastectomy and implant breast reconstruction cannot breast feed because milk ducts in the breast tissue are removed.

5. Your size options are sometimes limited

Your implants can’t always be as big as you want. The size of your rib cage, as well as the thickness and elasticity of your skin also play a role. The greater your skin’s elasticity, the greater your ability to stretch and accommodate larger implants without stretch marks.

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Keep in mind, though, larger implants more often require revision surgeries in the future.

6. Working with a board-certified surgeon is best

Although some cosmetic surgeons offer breast implant procedures, it’s better to work with a board-certified plastic surgeon.

They have extensive, rigorous training and undergo peer review. They have experience with all aspects of the surgery. And, they’re trained to handle any complications, however rare, that might arise.

7. A picture can help you describe what you want

If you’re going for a certain look with implants, it’s helpful to bring a photograph that illustrates your goal when you consult with your surgeon.

You might not achieve the exact result you want. But it’s a helpful starting point in the process for the surgeon to see what you’re hoping for.