Breast Implants - What Advances Have Been Made Since You Last Had Breast Implant Surgery?Breast Implants - What Advances Have Been Made Since You Last Had Breast Implant Surgery?

Breast implants are used to surgically address breast size and volume on women with underdeveloped or naturally small breasts; on women who have experienced breast changes following weight loss, weight gain, pregnancy, or aging; and on women who elect to undergo breast reconstruction following mastectomy. Breast augmentations were performed as early as the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the first silicone implants weren't invented until 1961. In collaboration with Dow Corning Corporation, two American plastic surgeons, Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin, developed the silicone implant, which was a tear-drop shaped implant with a rubber shell and a viscous silicone gel filler. Gerow and Cronin performed the first breast augmentation using silicone breast implants in 1962.

While the invention of silicone implants was revolutionary, the first models were far from perfect. Numerous advances have been made since the introduction of the first silicone implant, and as a result, the breast implants used in modern day augmentation procedures are more durable and longer lasting than their predecessors. They also offer patients far more choices in terms of shape, size, and degree of projection from the chest wall. To better understand these improvements, it's helpful to first review the history of early silicone implants.

A Brief History of Early Silicone Implants

Manufacturers began mass producing implants the early 1970s and, over time, began producing implants with thinner shells and thinner silicone fillers than earlier models, which were more likely to rupture or deflate following placement or cause other complications. In the 1980s, implants with textured surfaces were introduced. It was presumed that textured implants could help alter the scar tissue formation process and prevent capsular contracture, a complication that involves the scar tissue hardening and contracting around an implant, often causing breast firmness and pain. Studies gauging the efficacy of textured implants in reducing capsular contracture have since turned up mixed results, and though rare, capsular contracture remains a common possible complication of breast augmentation.

Amid reports from women saying their breast implants had deflated, leaked, and/or caused capsular contracture and other complications, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) began closely scrutinizing breast implant manufacturers in 1988. Over the next decade, the FDA requested that manufacturers submit detailed studies regarding the safety of silicone implants. In 1992, the FDA determined that there was insufficient evidence to deem implants either safe or harmful and ordered a moratorium on silicone breast implants for general use. Silicone implants could still be used in certain cases, including in women who had undergone mastectomy and opted for breast reconstruction.

Modern Silicone Implants

Following decades of intensive research and rigorous testing, the FDA conditionally approved the production and use of silicone implants for breast augmentation procedures. The approval required that the two manufacturers at the time - Mentor and Allergan - continually conduct studies and submit safety and effectiveness data regarding their silicone implants.

Modern implants feature multilayer shells and a cohesive silicone gel filler. The implant shells are able to maintain their structural integrity and are therefore less likely to fold, wrinkle, or rupture. As a result, these implants are more durable and longer lasting than previous implant versions.

Early implants used liquid-like silicone gel fillers, which could easily leak out of a ruptured implant shell and into the body. The cohesive gel compound used in today's implants, however, has improved drastically over early implant fillers, largely due to its unique interlinking molecular structure. This interlinking structure creates a thicker, more form-stable filler with a consistency similar to that of a gummy bear. As a result, implants with the cohesive filler are known as "gummy bear implants" and will maintain their shape - even when cut in half for demonstration purposes - and won't leak out into the body in the event of implant rupture. Some manufacturers offer slightly varying levels of gel cohesiveness, so surgeons can offer their patients some variety in this regard.

Finally, the availability of many different shapes, sizes, and profiles gives surgeons the ability to recommend certain implants to women of all body types because these implants assume the shape of existing breast tissue to create a more natural looking result.

Talk to an Experienced Surgeon

If you're considering replacing your older implants with newer versions, consult with an experienced plastic surgeon who is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He or she can suggest the silicone implants that can best help you achieve your aesthetic goals.

by Katie Perry
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Katie Perry is an online content editor in the Tampa Bay area. She posts articles about plastic surgery topics and procedures including breast augmentation, breast implants, and more.
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