The silicone gel breast implant has now been around for five decades, despite a number of recalls, controversies, and technical advancements.

With several generations of these devices and alternating periods of authoritative acceptance and rejection, silicone implants have had an interesting history in the plastic surgery and medical communities.

The History Of The Silicone Gel Implant

The silicone implant was a product first developed in 1962. To many doctors, the only possibilities available for breast enhancement surgery at the time (i.e., implants made of sponge or directly injected substances) seemed primitive or ineffective, oftentimes having negative outcomes.

Instead, a team of surgeons and researchers led by Dr. Thomas Cronin, developed a more appropriate solution for patients who were seeking breast enhancement surgery. Inspired by blood banks’ storage of liquids in plastic bags, the team created a prototype that was implanted in a dog named Esmeralda. Within a number of months, they had developed a functional prototype for humans that would serve as the basis for the silicone implants.

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Why Silicone Has Lasted So Long

With the rapidly evolving world of medical technology, few medical devices remain in use for more than a few years, let alone 50. Silicone breast implants have met their share of criticism and accompanying advancements in other products, but they still remain frequently used in modern society. Despite some of the flaws pointed out by proponents of alternative options, silicone breast implants are still considered one of the best and most simple methods available for breast enhancement surgery today.

Even though silicone implants have been used for 50 years, the procedures and devices used have evolved considerably. The procedures have been highly refined (with multiple possible incision sites, implant placement and other options), and multiple new generations of implants have continually improved on both safety and effectiveness. Future research is already targeting new implant shapes and improved design, as well as new polymers that can better optimize the results.

The Controversy Of Safety

Silicone breast implants were under a moratorium from the Food and Drug Administration beginning in 1992, after concerns over public health and safety. After 14 years, marked by a number of thorough clinical trials and research implemented by plastic surgeons, silicone breast implants were reinstated in the market in 2006.

It has been thought that silicone breast implants pose a threat to health, because of the possibility that the implant might rupture. This is a genuine possibility, but the health risks are relatively low. A rupture of the silicone implant can occur without any signal to the body, and will become trapped in fibrous tissue around the implant. Most times, surgical removal is required, but there are no known long-term adverse health consequences.

With continued advancing research and constant new improvements to both design and implementation, silicone breast implants will likely remain a staple medical device for breast enhancement surgery. With 50 years of history behind them, they have been commonly accepted as a breast implant option, and their risks are well understood.