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Do Breast Implants Expire?

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Breast Implant Display—Allergan Natrelle

Many women who are considering breast augmentation wonder if they will need to replace their breast implants at some point. At my San Jose practice, the following question comes up all the time, and in different ways: Do breast implants have an “expiration date?”

Recently, our office hosted a beauty and wellness event. People were able to visit a number of booths showcasing makeup, skin care, relaxation, and medical products and devices, including breast implants, available in a variety of options.

One person began a Q&A with the implant representative from Allergan:  “Is it true that I need to have my implants replaced after 10 years?” And, it literally took off from there. Patients and potential patients, product reps, and the doctor (me), all weighing in.

First, here’s the easy part of the answer:

  • There is no hard and fast rule, no set expiration date, no firm “shelf life” for breast implants—meaning, they can last indefinitely.
  • On the other hand, although they could last a lifetime, it doesn’t mean that your breast implants will last forever.

WHAT ARE THE AVERAGES FOR IMPLANT LIFE?

On average, considering all types of implant, they last between 10 and 25 years. Within that range, some may need replacement sooner, and some will last far longer; many indeed, for a lifetime. Another statistic: It’s reported that in the modern type of silicone gel implant, less than 3% of implants will “fail,” as in rupture or deflation.

Sientra Implants-Round and Shaped

Breast implants—silicone gel in various shapes

WHAT CAUSES IMPLANTS TO “FAIL” AND HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THEY DO?

There are a number of reasons that a breast implant, whether cosmetic or reconstructive, will fail. Usually, the causes are direct trauma, and normal wear or strain on the implant over time. These factors can result in leakage or rupture. Whether a breast implant is filled with saline (salt water solution) or silicone, the outer shell is made of a strong form of silicone. Although made to withstand extreme pressure and heat, the outer shell can sometimes break or become punctured.

A patient with saline implants is likely to notice a problem more quickly. If there is a leak or rupture, the water solution will be released from the implant shell, and a change in breast size or implant feel can be noted pretty rapidly. The saline is a safe solution that simply gets absorbed by the body. And it’s true that saline implants are a bit more likely to experience rupture or leaking than the silicone variety.

Patients with silicone implants might have a different experience. First, a word about what’s inside.

Cohesive Gel Implant-Cut

A cohesive (silicone) gel implant—cut to show consistency

Today’s silicone implants are almost always made with what’s known as cohesive silicone gel. Meaning, it stays together in a one-piece structure, even after a significant impact. If you slice through a cohesive silicone gel implant, you will see two halves that will maintain their shape and consistency. Implants made from this material were given the nickname “gummy bears” because of their similarity in feel with the popular candy.

Cohesive silicone gel implants are very strong, durable, and resistant to pressure and heat. If a rupture were to occur, a patient might notice a change in size or shape of the breast. In the event of a rupture, the silicone inside the implant usually does not migrate elsewhere in the body.

ARE THERE OTHER CONTRIBUTING CAUSES?

Yes, there are some other possible contributors to the life of your implants.  Scar tissue is one of them. All surgery, all incisions, will cause scarring. We’re able to minimize the appearance of external scars to a very great degree. The body handles internal scarring a little differently. Depending on the individual, a significant scar “capsule” may form around what the body sees as a foreign object. The capsule may become thick and hard, and can actually push the implant up and out of place. The displacement may cause folding or wrinkling, putting added pressure on the implant, both inside and out.   Illustration br. impl.

We wish we had an easy way to predict who will develop capsular contractures and who won’t. It’s something that varies with the individual. In these cases, the remedy is to undergo surgery to remove the scar tissue, open the capsule, and replace the implant with a new one.

The natural changes in our bodies as we age and experience life may also affect breast implants. Weight gain or loss may alter the way an implant will appear; pregnancy and breastfeeding can also trigger a change in appearance.

WHAT ABOUT REPLACEMENT?

Patients choose to replace their implants for all sorts of reasons, not just because of implant failure. The body changes mentioned above, for instance. Many will want a smaller or larger implant to achieve better balance—if they’ve gained or lost weight. Many will choose an implant with a different filling, and combine the replacement with a breast lift or reduction.

And, some will simply choose to have the implants removed, often along with a breast lift.

WHAT IF I’M NOT SURE AND I HAVE CONCERNS?

We always recommend keeping an ongoing relationship with your board-certified plastic surgeon. Make an appointment to have your implants checked, if you have any concerns. We see patients coming back yearly, or even after 10 years—just for a chat and a quick check. Many patients may also want further reassurance, such as through imaging such as MRI for a definitive look at the state of their implants.

Also, keep in mind that several breast implant manufacturers warranty their products for life (some offering replacement and assistance with surgical revision costs). But don’t confuse the warranty time frame with the life of your implants. As we said, your breast implants may need an intervention in 10 years or sooner, but they may can last a lifetime.

Dr. Vincent Lepore is a board-certified, Stanford-trained plastic surgeon. He performs breast augmentation, breast reconstruction, breast lift and reduction, removal and replacement of breast implants, and all ranges of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. Contact us to schedule your free cosmetic consultation in his convenient San Jose area office or call (408) 356-4241.

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