In an exciting and long-awaited decision, the FDA approved the use of silicone gel breast implants for all women in November 2006. This approval has made it possible for any woman over the age of 21 to receive these implants. Silicone breast implants (also known as silicone gel breast implants) offer several advantages over saline breast implants. They also have some disadvantages, so you and your surgeon should carefully weigh the pros and cons, if you are considering this option.
Advantages Of Silicone Breast Implants
The major benefits of silicone breast implants are in the realm of a more natural look and feel. Silicone breast implants are filled with silicone gel, which is softer and more natural (in the way it feels to the touch) than saline breast implants. They feel so soft and natural, that it is often impossible to discern them from natural breast tissue.
Rippling (see risks of breast augmentation) is far less likely to occur in women with silicone implants than in women with saline implants. This is because silicone gel is far more viscous (thicker) than saline, so it does not move or slosh, as saline can. Silicone implants can be placed over the muscle in women with little body fat or little breast tissue without the aesthetic concerns (rippling) associated with placing saline implants over the muscle in these women.
Disadvantages Of Silicone Breast Implants
Silicone implants may rupture. If they do so, liquid silicone may leak out of the implant shell. It is important to note that silicone implant ruptures and leakage have never been shown to cause systemic problems (such as lupus-like diseases, see below). Yet, in response to silicone implant rupture (with or without leakage), your body may develop a thick scar around the implant, called capsular contracture (see risks of breast augmentation).
Ruptures, if they occur, tend to occur in implants that have been in place for years (as opposed to recently placed implants). Thus, so do capsular contractures.
Silicone implants are all pre-filled by the manufacturer. This means a longer incision (6-8 cm) is required to place the implant. This is in contrast to saline implants, which are empty (hence smaller) prior to their insertion. As such, saline implants may be placed through a shorter incision (3-5 cm).
The cost of silicone breast implants is significantly higher than saline. This is due to higher production costs (compared to saline) by the manufacturer.
Are Silicone Breast Implants Right For You?
The advantage of having silicone breast implants with a softer and more natural feel is more important for women who have the least amount of natural breast tissue and women who have little body fat. In these women, saline implants can often be seen or felt through the skin. Although this does not bother many women, it does bother some.
Silicone implants are probably best suited to women who have nominal breast tissue and are willing to accept the aforementioned disadvantages. They are also very appropriate for lean women and body builders, because they can be placed over the muscle with a low risk of rippling.
A Brief History Of Silicone Breast Implants
From 1960-1990, silicone breast implants were the most popular type of implant placed for breast augmentation. In 1991, unfounded news reports emerged that silicone gel breast implants were responsible for causing connective tissue diseases (CTD’s) in some women. (The key word here is unfounded). CTD’s are lupus-like diseases that can include arthritis and can be disabling, affecting the entire body. Whereas it was true that a few women with silicone implants developed CTD’s, so did women without implants. It has been shown through multiple studies that silicone implants did not cause the CTD’s. Simply put: women with silicone implants and women without silicone implants have the same risk of developing CTD’s. The presence of silicone implants does not increase the likelihood of developing a CTD.
Because preliminary studies have supported that silicone implants are safe in this regard, silicone gel breast implants have been under wider study for return to the market in the USA. In April 2005, an FDA advisory panel recommended to the FDA that silicone gel breast implants be returned to the market. In November 2006, the FDA finally approved their return. They are now available to any woman who wishes to have them placed.