Updated July 2013
What happens when implants break?
All breast implants will eventually break, but it is not known how many years the breast implants that are currently on the market will last. Studies of silicone breast implants suggest that most implants last 7-12 years, but some break during the first few months or years, while others last more than 15 years.
In a study conducted by FDA scientists, most women had at least one broken implant within 11 years, and the likelihood of rupture increases every year. Silicone migrated outside of the breast capsule for 21% of the women, even though most women were unaware that this had happened.
Rupture is a tear or hole in the outer shell of the breast implant. When this occurs in a saline breast implant, it deflates, meaning the saltwater (saline) solution leaks from the shell. Silicone gel is thicker than saline, so when a silicone gel-filled implant ruptures, the gel may remain in the shell or in the scar tissue that forms around the implant (intracapsular rupture). The longer you have a breast implant, the greater the chance of implant rupture.
It is recommend that you have your implants removed (both saline-filled and silicone gel-filled breast implants) if they have ruptured. You and your doctor will need to decide whether or not your implant has ruptured and if you should have it replaced or removed without replacement.
Some possible causes of rupture of breast implants include:
- Capsular contracture
- Compression during a mammogram
- Damage by surgical instruments
- Damage during procedures to the breast, such as biopsies and fluid drainage
- Normal aging of the implant
- Overfilling or underfilling of saline-filled breast implants
- Physical stresses such as trauma or intense physical pressure
- Placement through a non-FDA approved incision site, for example the belly button
- Too much handling during surgery
Rupture and Deflation in Saline-Filled Breast Implants
The term rupture is used for all types of breast implants, but the term deflation is only used for saline-filled implants. You and/or your doctor will be able to tell if your saline-filled implant ruptures because the saline solution leaks into your body immediately or over several days. You will notice that your implant loses its original size or shape.
Rupture in Silicone Gel-Filled Implants
Silicone Migration: Research has shown that silicone gel in implants can break down to liquid silicone at normal body temperatures, and there are reports of silicone leakage and migration from implants to the lymph nodes and other organs. What happens if liquid silicone migrates to the lungs, liver, or other organs? A study published by the Royal Academy of Medicine in Scotland found that a woman with a broken silicone gel implant in her calf was coughing up silicone identical to the kind in her implant. This has potentially serious implications for women with breast implants, since silicone gel breast implants are considerably larger and closer to the lungs than calf implants.
If your silicone gel-filled breast implant ruptures, it is not likely that you or your doctor will immediately notice. Silicone gel is thicker than saline, so when a silicone gel-filled implant ruptures, the gel may remain in the shell or in the scar tissue that forms around the implant (intracapsular rupture).
When a silicone gel-filled implant ruptures, a woman may notice a decrease in breast size, change in breast implant shape, hard lumps over the implant or chest area, an uneven appearance of the breasts, pain or tenderness, tingling, swelling, numbness, burning, or changes in sensation. Ruptures that show symptoms usually happen outside of the capsule. However, some ruptures are called “silent ruptures.”
A “silent rupture” doesn’t change the way an implant looks or feels to a woman because the rupture occurs within the capsule. Silent ruptures are not usually evident by a physical examination by a doctor. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the most effective method for detecting silent rupture of silicone gel-filled breast implants. The FDA recommends MRI at 3 years after implantation and every 2 years after that to screen for rupture.
Silicone gel that leaks outside the capsule surrounding the implant may travel (migrate) away from the breast. The leaked silicone gel may cause lumps to form in the breast or in other tissue, most often the chest wall, armpit or arm. It may be difficult or impossible to remove silicone gel that has traveled to other parts of the body.
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