5 Essential Facts About Breast Implants

Can implants rupture? Cause cancer? Get answers to these and other must-know questions.

Medically reviewed in July 2022

Breast augmentation is the number one cosmetic surgery in the US, with nearly 314,000 procedures completed in 2018 alone—a 4 percent jump from the year before. People seek implants for a host of reasons, such as self-image, physical changes from breastfeeding or tissue loss after mastectomy.

Even though implants are common:

  • There are different types.
  • They’ve changed over the years.
  • Researchers are constantly learning more about healthy living with implants.

These issues might leave you wondering about popular myths and news stories on breast augmentation. Whether you’re curious about your options, looking forward to surgery or already living with implants, here’s a roundup of what you need to know.

Yes, implants can look like the real thing
Your surgeon will ask about the look and feel you’d like when planning your procedure. They’ll discuss whether it’s possible to achieve your goals, based on your breast size, shape and any scar tissue you might have.

There are a number of implant types, so ask about every option before making a decision. Here are some possible choices:

  • Silicone-filled implants seem the most natural, according to most experts.
  • Saline, or salt-water implants, usually feel firm and look uniform. Since natural breasts tend to be uneven and imperfect, this can make them appear artificial. Your surgeon may still be able to achieve a natural look if the implant isn’t filled too much and the breast isn’t lifted too high.
  • “Gummy bear,” or form-stable implants, are made from a thick form of silicone. This type of implant can also feel firmer than a natural breast.

After surgery, it may take a few weeks for the swelling and bruising to go down, and for your breasts to settle into shape. Some people should wear a compression bra to help their breasts heal correctly. Depending on your implant type, regular massaging can encourage natural movement, rather than stiffness, as your breasts heal.

Implants can affect nipple sensation
Implants can increase or decrease nipple sensation. Feeling may return to normal after your breasts heal, but the change is sometimes permanent. Numbness may interfere with sexual pleasure and breastfeeding.

If nipple sensation is a priority for you, tell your plastic surgeon. They might be able to avoid surgical techniques that raise your risk of developing numbness. When weighing your options, consider the size of your implants and whether they’ll be placed above or below your chest muscle, which can also impact sensation.

If you develop temporary numbness after surgery, daily nipple massages might help feeling return.

Implants don’t up your breast cancer risk
People with implants are not more likely to develop breast cancer, compared to those with natural breasts.

Keep in mind, implants could make it more difficult for radiologists to see cancer on your mammogram screens. In a study involving more than 4,000 people, cancer stage at the time of diagnosis and survival odds were similar between those with implants and those with natural breasts.

Whether you’ve undergone breast augmentation or not, follow the national breast cancer screening guidelines. If you have implants, technologists will take additional images and adjust your breasts during mammograms to ensure the clearest results possible.

Implants are linked to a rare type of cancer
Having any type of breast implants is linked to an increased risk for a very rare form of cancer, called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). ALCL is not breast cancer. Rather, it’s a kind of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or cancer that affects immune cells.

The FDA notes that ALCL risk appears to be higher for people with textured breast implants, though it’s unclear whether it’s related to particular products or textured breast implants in general. The agency continues to collect information on the issue. Textured implants tend to develop more scar tissue, making them less likely to move around inside the breast pocket. ALCL is often detected inside scar tissue, as well as in fluid close to the implant.

As of July 2019, the FDA received reports of 573 cases of breast implant-associated ALCL worldwide, as well as reports of 33 deaths linked to the disease. Biocell textured breast implants, made by Allergan, were associated with 481 of those cases, along with at least 12 deaths. As a result, the FDA asked Allergan to recall its Biocell textured breast implants and tissue expanders from the market. The company announced on July 24, 2019 that it would do so voluntarily.

To know: ALCL is rare, affecting only a small percentage of the 10 to 11 million people who have breast implants worldwide. Before getting breast implants, make sure to talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of both textured-surface and smooth-surface implants. If you already have implants, possible warning signs of ALCL may include new swelling, lumps, asymmetry or pain around your implants that develops years (possibly even decades) after your surgery. If you notice these or other changes in the way your breast looks or feels, be sure to talk to your doctor about your risk for ALCL and follow recommendations for routine screenings.

Yes, implants can rupture

Implants aren’t meant to last forever and it’s safe to assume you’ll need additional surgeries in the future.

It is possible for implants to rupture. If a gummy bear or silicone implant breaks, it probably won’t change the shape of your breast. However, if a saline implant tears, it’ll collapse and the fluid will absorb naturally into your body.

Ruptures can cause pain and usually require surgery. Contact your surgeon if you experience any changes to the size, shape or feeling of your breasts.

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