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Category: Breast Augmentation

Do I need to change my breast implants after 10 years?

There appears to be a significant misunderstanding, or misrepresentation of the FDA data when breast implants were again brought back for general clinical use around 2011. With each new generation of breast implants advancements are made and this has been especially true of their durability. Still implants are not permanent devices. It would be terrific if one set of implants could last forever, but there is a rate of breakage of silicone or saline implants. The breakage data for implants are averages of large populations of patients, not a set number of years that dictate changing your implants.
   If you follow augmentation patients for 10 years you may find 20% may request a revisional surgery, but many are not because their implant broke. Some patients may have hardening of the scar tissue around the implant (capsular contracture). Some patients may want a breast lift or a change in the size of their implants even though the implants are intact. It is reasonable to consider exchange of the implants since they are undergoing a surgery to revise the breast shape or size, especially if the implants are older, but it isn’t a requirement in many circumstances. The reality is the FDA and current research data concerning implants are probability data based on the specific group evaluated. So if we say implants my have a breakage or deflation rate around 10% at 10 years that means 90% of people don’t have a broken implant and any one individual may not have an implant break for 30 or 40 years, no one knows for that individual patient. Of course , if your saline implant deflates or your silicone implant is found to be broken at that point in time it’s a 100% rate for you. So given the data if everyone had surgery at 10 years post implantation then 90% of those patients didn’t have a broken implant, and if no other issues why should they spend money for the surgery as well as time off of work or any minor risks of the procedure itself. 
   If a saline implant fails it is not subtle; the breast shrinks in size, gets softer, and may become more ptotic which mean droopier. Silicone implants can break, and you may not know unless you have a high resolution ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. While these tests are not 100% reliable their detection rates of broken implants are very high and the best we have as non-invasive tests to look for broken silicone implants. If your implant is studied at some point in time and the studies are normal then you avoided a surgery which can be a good thing.
   Having been in practice for about 30 years now I personally have thousands of patients that have had augmentations or breast reconstructions with implants. If after 10 years if every one of those patients returned to get new implants I’d have a full operating schedule just revising old patients. While great for a practice’s bottom line I’d be operating on a ton of patients who didn’t need the surgery. The data just doesn’t support the need for all those patients to get re-operated on. Why should they pay for the new implants, new surgery, and take even the minor risk of surgery. Over 40 years that would be 4 surgeries. Now of course if the patient has other desires about their breasts, or want to change the shape or size then sure change the implants out if they are older.
   Occasionally I do meet a patient that just can’t get this 10 year data point out of their head so they just worry more about the idea of an implant breaking. In those circumstances I try to get them to understand that the numbers are just statistics, and if they really feel the need to do surgery they can, it’s their body and life plan, but then they may want to at least wait till the implants are 15 or 20 years old when the risk of a broken implant has gone up enough that changing makes more sense. Plus for most people after 20 years they are certainly more likely to have other reasons to adjust their breast size or shape. This way they may have 2 or 3 surgeries in a lifetime not 5 or 6. Hopefully this has shed some light on the indications for changing out breast implants and trying to use data scientifically and logically to make the best decisions for you. Don’t just let someone tell you to change your implants at 10 years until they can back that up with scientific explanations that make sense to you.

What should I do if my saline implant deflates? Should I deflate my intact implant?

Wouldn’t it be great if breast implants could last forever, and we did one surgery and never had to think about it again. Wishful thinking I’m afraid for both silicone and saline implants are not invincible, and they have a rate of rupture or deflation over time. For this discussion let’s focus on saline implant deflation. In general, saline implants deflate around 10% to 12% of the time at ten years. This is not a straight line progression for 3 to 4 % may deflate in the first 3 years, and the deflation rate at 20 years is likely 30 % or more. Exact data can be tough to determine for implant construction changes over time, and many people choose to have breast lifts or change to silicone implants without having deflated so exact numbers are impossible to come by. Of course if your implant has deflated then it’s 100% for you at that point in time whether 5 years or 15 years after your surgery. 
One upside of saline implants is that if the implants does break and deflate you know it. The result is not subtle for that breast will shrink in size, get softer, and likely hang a bit looser than the other breast. Also when implants deflate it is common to feel the irregularities and folds in the implants once it is mostly empty of the saline. Sometimes the empty implant even feels like it is pocking you and feels very different than when full and intact. The saline in your implant is regular IV fluid, and your body absorbs the slat water over time and you just pee it out like you would an IV solution. Most implant deflations are a small pin hole that may have occurred from a small edge fold in the implant that made it rub against itself over the years and a hole occurred. Those deflations with a true hole in the implant deflate in a couple weeks, it’s fairly rapid and obvious. A less frequent type of deflation occurs at the valve which is the part of the implant used to fill it with saline at the time of surgery. These valve leaks can lead to partial deflations, or changes in the breast size that take many weeks to occur.
So once you and your surgeon know your implant on one side has deflated what should you do? Most patients plan on replacing their implants, possibly with saline again or silicone, but depending on how the breast have changed over time a breast lift may also be appropriate with or without new implants. Also decisions about going larger or smaller need to be discussed. It is often wise to strongly consider deflating the intact implant before considering revision surgery. This may be especially important if you don’t know the exact fill volumes your surgeon put in the implants. Many patients at initial surgery were asymmetric and the surgeon put 25 or 40 cc’s more on one side or the other, and now with a deflation we can’t tell how naturally asymmetric you are. Hopefully the original surgeon gave you an implant card with the exact fill volumes placed in each implant, but those cards are often misplaced. Also over time the implants may have stretched the natural breast tissue differently on one side, or if your weight has changed with time that change may have changed the breasts differently. Another reason to deflate the intact implant is that the weight of the full implant changes the natural hydration and tissue volume of that breast. The weight of the implant pushes some swelling out of that breast and once deflated the volume of the deflated breast can change up to 20%. Twenty percent is a significant amount and if we don’t deflate the other breast we may be way off getting things symmetric.
Deflating an intact implant is a very simple and safe in- office procedure. A little local anesthesia and a surgeon can deflate the intact implant over a couple minutes so the whole process may be 15 or 20 minutes in the office. In my practice I have patients wait at least one month and often a bit longer before doing the revision so we gave the breast time to relax back to a normal baseline. If you have a unilateral deflation, especially if it’s been a few months before you sought out surgical advice, strongly consider deflation of the intact implant to assist you in making the best decisions for the next surgery. I hope this helped clarify why your surgeon might suggest deflation of your intact saline implant.

Tubular Breast Deformity (Tuberous Breast)

If breasts are narrow at the bottom and protruding out like snoopy’s nose they are what is classified as Tuberous breasts.  This type of breast shape is reported in 5% of patients but the exact incidence isn’t known.  Tubular breast deformity can occur in men and women.  Originally classified in three grades of severity a few typical characteristics are present.  First like the name states the breast has elongated tubular appearance.  Most often this is due to a shortage and tightness to the tissues only the lower half of the breast.  This is why tubular breasts are also called “constricted” breast for the tighter lower portion of the breast narrows to the base of the breast.  This constriction tends to make for a higher inframammary crease which is where the breast joins the chest wall.  Typically the distance from the nipple to the inframammary crease (IMC) is shorter than normal.  Also, this constriction of breast tissue leaves a wider than normal spacing between the two breasts.  The patients Areola and nipple may look like its being pushed out from the breast and frequently it may a bit large relative to the rest of the breast.  Patients with constricted breast deformities may have a lower chance to breast feed than the general population, but this has not been formally studied.

So what can be done to assist the patient in managing the tubular breast?  Breast Augmentation with tissue scarring is the mainstay of addressing tubular breast deformity.  Tissue “scarring” means the surgeon will make some cuts into the breast tissue to allow it to relax and stretch quicker with the breast augmentation.  How much “scarring” depends on the tightness of the native breast.

As mentioned earlier tuberous/tubular breasts can have an enlarged areola that is pushing out from the breast.  To create a better contour to the breast a “donut” mastopexy might be needed as well as the breast tissue scarring.  A donut mastopexy or some variant means we remove a donut shape of the extra areola skin to make it an appropriate size.  Also, releasing the breast from the overlying skin permits I to push the herniating breast/areola tissue back in so it doesn’t look like snoopy’s nose anymore.  If the tubular deformity is mild it might be suggested to hold off on the mastopexy to see if after augmentation is even needed.  Frequently a donut mastopexy can be done under local anesthesia down the road if needed.

Occasionally a patient might have a severe enough deformity that a tissue expander could be suggested.  Tissue expanders allow the surgeon to stretch out your breast tissue over time by adding salt water (saline) solution into a type of breast implant expander made for this purpose.  Tissue expanders are commonly used in breast cancer reconstruction.  The need for the expander is rare for tuberous breast issues.  There are expandable implants that can serve as your expander and a final implant.  However in my opinion, in the very rare patient that an expander is utilized the end result is better & the expander is changed out for a more standard implant after the expansion process is finished.  We hope this sheds some light on tuberous/tubular breast deformity.  Feel free to contact us at 520-575-8400 for an appointment for a personal assessment.



Breast Augmentation: Why do some people get hardening of the breast(Capsular Contracture)

First let’s define what Capsular Contracture (C.C.) is vs. simply a capsule around a breast implant.  Anyone who gets a breast implant will form a capsule of natural tissue around that implant.  A capsule is your body laying down a thin layer of collagen and cells around the object.  Any medical device placed in the body will get this capsule made around it.  Pacemakers have capsules, joint replacements have some capsule, and internal insulin pumps have capsules.  The formation of thin scar tissue around the scar around the implanted object is pretty normal.  So every patient with an implant has a capsule, but most patients don’t have a “Capsular Contracture”(C.C.).  The contracture part of the equation is the piece we wish to avoid.  Contracture means the capsule is getting stiffer, thicker or hard enough to distort the breast.  Years ago Dr. Baker gave a simple grading scale on how to access how firm a capsular contracture (C.C.) was.  Baker’s Class goes form I to IV.  A Baker’s class I means a soft normal feeling breast without evidence of C.C.  A class II looks normal, but on palpitation the surgeon or patient can tell the breast is firmer than normal.  Class III typically has more hardening and perhaps some visual distortion of the breast.  Baker’s class IV has even more hardening, distortion and possibly even pain in the breast or pain with palpitation.  This classification scheme is not very detailed or scientific, but it is a standard way to follow and grade the degree of C.C. a patient has.

So what causes capsular contracture?  Why do some people get it and some people don’t.  Also why does it happen to one breast and not the other?  The reality is we don’t have definitive proof of one single cause, there appears to be several potential culprits leading to capsular contracture.  The underlying process that leads to C.C. is anything that increases inflammatory reactions in the breast space around the implant.  The likely contributors can be extra blood around the implant at time of surgery, any extra foreign body like surgical glove powder, cellular debris, serum, or bacteria in the space that generate inflammation, but not infection.

As surgeons have become more aware and sophisticated with our performance of breast augmentation the occurrence of C.C. has decreased over the years.  First you want your surgeon to be very meticulous about the dissection decreasing the risk of extra blood or serum getting in the space around the implant.  If there is extra blood the body has to generate more inflammation to clear it just like absorbing a bruise over time.  More inflammation can lead to more capsular reaction and then contracture.  Also extra blood or serum can act like culture medium if there are bacteria in the space around the implant.  For the last 25 years better studies have been done looking at bacteria as a reason people might get a capsular contracture.  Bacteria do live normally on our skin, there are bacteria in the air around us and even the most sterile environment can have a few bacteria hanging around.  While a true implant infection is extremely rare in breast augmentation the chance of some bacteria getting on the implant is real.  This risk of bacteria getting on an implant is one reason we prefer not to use incision around the areola as much as we used to.  Breast tissue and glands have bacteria in them naturally, and there is the hypothetical chance of periareolar incisions causing more chance of bacteria coming in contact with implant.  This is not a proven hard scientific fact, but it does make sense.

The position and surface style of an implant also changes the capsular contracture risks.  Smooth implants above the muscle (subglandular placement) in most studies have a higher C.C. rate than if the implant was placed under the pectoral muscle (submuscular placement).  However a textured (rough surface) implant placed above the muscle doesn’t have as much C.C. risk as the smooth implant.  The belief is the textured surface can break up the alignment of scar tissue so it can’t organize in one direction to pull on the surface of the implant.  The understanding of this is not precisely understood for both smooth and textured implants under the muscle have fairly low capsular contracture rates.  Its implants placed above the muscle that seems to make a bigger difference here.  Studies will be going on for many years before we have a better and more complete understanding of capsular contracture and how to prevent it.  For now a key way I keep capsular contracture as low as possible is to not open an implant until right before it goes into the patient.  The moment we open an implant it is immersed in antibiotic solution to make it hard for a bacteria to even land on the implant.  My surgical gloves are changed to new gloves and washed with antibacterial solution.  No one but me ever touches the implant to decrease chance of contamination.  I irrigate the space for the implant with antibiotic solution also.  These and other sterility maneuvers have been documented to have lower C.C. rates with breast augmentation.

Capsular Contracture will continue to be an area of active research and as of yet we don’t have all the answers, but we keep getting the incidence lower and lower so C.C. are much lower than several decades ago.  If you wish greater details on this topic give us a call and set up an appointment to fill in any gaps in your understanding of this component of breast surgery.


“Photo Shopping” the breast with Fat Injections

As Plastic Surgeons we are always looking to refine techniques and find answersto make results better.  “Photo Shopping” out minor defects or irregularities in the breast with fat injections is a good example.  I wish I could clain the term “Photo Shopping” but  I picked that up from collegues using the term over the last few years at meetings.  The concept is a simple one really.  For many years we just excepted, for example, that mastectomy patients would have to accept ripples or contour irregularities of the breast.  Now we can offer fat injections into these defects to smooth out irregularities or “Photo Shop” the breast .  You have to love the term it gives a great visual.

Typically I will liposuction some tummy or medial thigh fat from the patient to use for grafting.  The fat is cleaned of blood and free oils and injected into the breast where needed.  Insurance does not always cover this, but frequently may.  These tequniques are not only used for breast reconstruction, but can also be used in cosmetic breast surgery contour problems.

Like all forms of fat injection procedures I can’t guarantee complete fat graft take so we go for a little over correction expecting to loose a hint of the result.    As you might expect age, tissue quality and thickness all play into the results.  If someone smokes, is diabetic or has significant vascular disease their results are not as reliable as the healthy patient with no medical issues.  Still “Photo Shopping” the breast with precision fat graft placement is a nice new procedure to take our breast surgery results to the next level.

Revisional Cosmetic Breast Surgery: The use of Acellular Dermal Matrices (ADMs)

Breast Augmentation is one of the most common aesthetic surgeries Plastic Surgeons perform. While breast augmentation is a very safe and reliable proceedure, patients can require revisional surgeries over the many years they have implants. Some revisions may be needed due to aging of the breast tissues, breast feeding, weight changes,rippling, broken implants, capsule formation around the implant, or malposition of the original implant. It has become more frequent to use acellular dermal matrices (ADMs) to correct some of these breast issues. What is an ADM exactly? The tissues that make up skin are very strong and dermis is the main strength component of skin. Some ADMs come from human sources and some are porcine (pig) skin derived. Pig skin is biochemically and structurally very similar to human skin. The cells are all removed from the collagen and other components that make up the dermis. This leaves a sheet that can be placed in the body and used to reinforce weak tissue in the breast. These sheets of dermis can help resolve ripping in the breast, reinforce areas where the weight of an implant over time has stretched out breast tissue, or improve control of implants that might be too medially placed (symmastia).
If a patient has very little native breast tissue and over the years forms a thick capsule around an implant we may need to remove all of that capsular scar tissue which may now leave weakened thin breast tissue that had been a bit stretched by the implants over the years. This patients may benefit from the addition of an ADM to give thicker coverage and better internal support to the implant. Multiple manufactures market ADMs and there is no consensus that one is superior than another. These products come in different thicknesses and sizes also so the surgeon will decide what type or thickness of product they prefer. We continue to look scientifically at these dermal products to see if some hold up better than others and try to balance the benefits against the cost or any down sides to the products.
Of course, the cost of ADMs is a significant concern to our patients so they are not necessarily indicated for all patients. Many revisional breast surgeries, if not most, do not require ADMs to fix the problem. That being said however, if a patient has had a revision failure for the same problem it is more likely that an ADM will be suggested or required to fix the issue. The added expense of the ADM product may be well worth it in those cases. As we refine the science of these products maybe someday we can have a readily available one generated by a 3-dimensional biologic printer for nominal expense to our patients. Now that would be fabulous, let’s hope the future is not to far off. For now we will use the best science we have on hand to assist patients with there breast surgery needs.

Breast Augmentation: Saline vs Silicone, which is best for me?

Young beautiful womanBreast augmentation is one of the most gratifying procedures for the patient and surgeon alike. It can truly be a life altering change for many women which as surgeons make us very delighted to assist in that transformation. There are specific things to think about when considering breast enhancement and one of those big questions is, “Do I want a saline or a silicone implant?”


Why should a patient choose one over the other? First let’s comment on the original moratorium the FDA placed on silicone implants about 20 years ago; this proved to be a bit of a knee jerk reaction for there were concerns that there might be problems silicone caused and frankly no one had looked closely at any disease process that might be related to silicone in the body.  Therefore the FDA under Dr. Kessler said let’s take these implants off the market until someone looks at the issue closely.  Well multiple large epidemiologic studies were done from very reputable institutions and no linkage could be found between silicone and any systemic illness.  It would take pages to cover all the studies in detail, but in short the FDA realized there was nothing wrong with silicone breast implants and allowed them to be brought back to the market in November of 2006. One advantage of the moratorium however is the fact that the manufactures did improve the implants significantly with stronger outer shells and more “cohesive” silicone elastomere. Cohesive silicone means it sticks to itself much more and doesn’t move around easily. So patients and plastic surgeons got a much better set of breast implants out of the down time when only saline breast implants were available to patients. The bottom line is if saline implants were in every way as good an implant as silicone breast implants, then we never would have cared if silicone was made available again or not.

There are definite advantages to silicone implants and across the whole spectrum they are a better quality “breast enhancer” than saline implants, but that still does not mean silicone is the end all and be all, and many patients are absolutely satisfied with their saline implants.

Difference Between Saline and Silicone

Let’s walk through some of the differences between saline and silicone. First off silicone is a more expensive implant, about three times as expensive in fact. Medical grade silicone is expensive stuff, the technology in manufacturing silicone implants is more expensive and it makes for a higher priced device. That alone is enough reason for some patients to choose saline implants. Also the FDA , manufacturers, and surgeons request that if you have silicone implants that you intermittently get MRI imaging of the breast to check if your implant is still intact and looks normal and that is an expense to the patient over time that saline implanted patients need not concern themselves with.  So what makes me say that silicone is a better “breast enhancer” than saline. One reason is that silicone implants feel much more like your natural breast.  Saline is by definition essentially water and your breast is fat and tissue that has a denser feel and quality to it that “feels more like silicone” than it does salt water. About three times as many patients with saline implants will say they can feel the edge of their saline implant compared to silicone patients.  Another advantage of silicone over saline is it’s about one third as likely to show any rippling in the breast.  While rippling fortunately isn’t very common, it still happens with enough frequency to saline implanted patients that some of them choose later to change their implants to silicone. Another reason patients may choose silicone is that the breakage rate for silicone is about half of the deflation rate for saline implants so over the years your more likely to have to replace your saline than your silicone implant.

The Best Decision For You

Do be aware that everyone doing breast augmentation needs to think that over the course of their life they may need more than one operation following breast augmentation. An implant may break, your breast may change from pregnancy, age or weight changes over the years. Perhaps you may later want a smaller breast, or your might get a capsular contracture (hardening of scar tissue around the implant) that makes you want to have another surgery to correct the problem or change or lift up the breast. The implants do add weight to the breast and change the rate that the skin will change over the decades. In my own plastic surgery practice in Tucson Arizona, about 45% of my patients choose saline implants and 55% choose silicone.  It’s important that you make the right decision for you, we are here to guide you in that decision making with solid valid information. Please consider looking at the implant manufacturers web sites to get more information or use the web site of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to broaden your knowledge about breast augmentation and Plastic Surgery in general. Hopefully this has helped you answer a few questions that relate to saline vs silicone implants…  If you have additional questions or would like to schedule a consultation please contact my plastic surgery office in Tucson Arizona at (520) 575-8400



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