Many women believe that their implants will last forever. But a breast implant is a medical device that will eventually fail. Different types of implants have different lifetimes, and even the most durable often require some sort of maintenance over the course of a lifetime. The FDA stated in 2011 that more than one in five women must have their implants removed within a decade. 

While each patient is different, different types of implants average different lifetimes; each kind also carries a unique set of potential complications.

Saline Implants

  • Standard Inflatable:

The standard saline implant is an empty silicone pouch inserted beneath the breast or pectoral tissue, then inflated with a saline solution and sealed by the implant valve.

A 2009 study showed that 90 percent of saline implants remained intact the first 10 years, higher than the national average, but that 37 percent of patients had undergone a second surgery for one of a number of maintenance reasons.

  • Prefilled:

Other saline implants are inserted pre-inflated by the manufacturer; these are 3.5 times as likely to deflate over the course of the first four years, compared to standard saline implants.

Silicone:

  • 410 Cohesive Silicone Gel Implants:

These new implants were the reason the FDA allowed silicone implants back on the market in 2006, following a fourteen-year ban. They contain a less-viscous silicone gel than older models, which means less leakage, and leakage that remains closer to the breast, reducing the risk of capsular contracture and other immune concerns.

As these models have been on the market for less than a decade, their long-term durability remains to be seen, but for now, they show great promise. After six years, only 10 percent of reconstruction patients had returned for a second surgery, and that includes maintenance-type surgeries in addition to patients experiencing leakage.

  • Older Silicone Implants:

Outdated silicone implants had a much higher risk of rupturing within the first five years, earning themselves an FDA ban in 1992.

Maintenance:

Even women who avoid implant rupture or deflation may face other complications requiring more minor implant maintenance.  Because silicone leakage is undetectable by mammograms, the FDA recommends that patients undergo an MRI exam three years after the surgery, and every two years following. Insurance rarely covers this exam

  • Repositioning And Rotation

Implants may shift over time, which often requires repositioning surgery for aesthetics and comfort.

  • Capsular Contracture

When silicone leaks from an implant and travels to the breast tissue or beyond, the body often rejects the foreign material. Unable to eliminate it, the body surrounds the silicone in scar tissue to reduce any potential threat. Contracture causes harmful hardening and sagging of the breasts; the scarring must be surgically removed. In rare cases, capsular contracture occurs despite leakage. More than 50 percent of all revisionary breast surgeries set out to reverse this damage.

  • Rippling/Wrinkling

As implants leak over time, the silicone sacks can ripple and wrinkle, the effects of which can be seen and felt.

  • Size change:

Roughly twenty percent of revisionary breast surgery changes the size of the implant at the patient’s request.