Of the approximately 300,000 American women who have breast augmentation surgery each year, some 240,000 choose the procedure for cosmetic reasons. For the remainder, breast augmentation is a reconstructive surgery following mastectomy or accidental breast scarring. The number of annual breast augmentations makes the operation the most common cosmetic surgery performed in the United Sates, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Breast augmentation carries the risk of complications during the surgery and postoperative healing process. Problems may arise from the use of general anesthesia or infection. Women sometimes experience the pain, swelling or bleeding that often follows an invasive procedure. Breast augmentation may also lead to serious complications ending in disfigurement or permanently damaged health.
Types of Breast Implants
Many problems associated with breast augmentation relate to the type of implant a woman receives.
Saline-filled breast implants consist of elastomeric silicone shells. Some are prefilled with sterile saline solution. Others are designed for post-placement filling. Because their saline solution won’t harm the body if these implants rupture, they’re considered the safest form of implants. They have FDA approval for reconstructive use in all women and cosmetic use in women 18 and older.
Silicone gel implants are elastomeric silicone shells prefilled with thick silicone gel. They require a larger incision than saline implants filled after placement. While their texture is close to that of natural breast tissue, leaking silicone following a rupture of these implants can cause serious harm. Silicone gel implants have FDA approval for reconstructive use in all women and cosmetic use in women 21 and older.
Breast Implant Rupture
A woman’s chances of experiencing natural breast implant rupture increase over time. Most doctors, in fact, advise voluntary implant replacement at 10- to 15-year intervals. Implant rupture may also result from an accidental blow to the chest. Saline implant ruptures surface quickly, as the body absorbs the leaking fluid and the breasts flatten. Because of their nonabsorbable contents, silicone implant ruptures may remain hidden for years.
Breast Implants and ALCL
The FDA reports that recent research indicates an increased risk of anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or ALCL, and breast implants. This rare immune system cancer has occurred in 60 women with breast implants. It typically develops in the fibrous capsule that forms around the implants during the healing process.
The majority of women diagnosed with ALCL first experienced swelling, pain, lumps and breast asymmetry before their disease was discovered. ALCL treatment usually requires removal of the scar tissue and implant, sometimes supplemented with chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
Breast Implants and Capsular Contracture
Scar tissue around breast implants may shrink, squeezing them and causing painfully hard breasts. This condition, called capsular contraction, has four grades:
- Grade I breasts appear and feel natural.
- Grade II breasts are slightly firm. They appear natural.
- Grade III feel firm and appear abnormal.
- Grade IV breasts are very firm and painful. They appear abnormal.
Capsular contracture, especially at Grades III and IV, may require surgery and implant removal. It often reoccurs, cautions the FDA.
Additional complications of breast augmentation surgery include:
- Rupture-related infection
- Toxic shock syndrome, resulting when germs or fungi invade the body during implant surgery
- Fluid buildup around the implants
- Breast hardening from calcium deposits
- Lymph node enlargement
- Decreased nipple sensitivity
- Death of tissue around the breast
- Breast skin breakdown that leaves the implants visible
- Hematoma, or swelling due to blood buildup around the implant site
Women who develop any painful or unusual changes in breast appearance following breast augmentation surgery should contact an attorney experienced in breast augmentation malpractice litigation.