When deciding whether to get breast implants or not, a common question or concern women have is whether they last for a lifetime. That is, Are breast implants good for life?
And if not, how long are they good for?
What limits the lifespan of breast implants, and can their lifetime be extended or prolonged?
These questions and more are what we will be answering here.
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Implants aren’t guaranteed for life. Implant problems aren’t either.
Unfortunately, breast implants are not lifetime devices.
Like so many things in life, the longer a woman has breast implants in, the more likely she is to experience various potential complications.
“Breast implants are not lifetime devices. The longer you have your implants, the more likely it will be for you to have them removed or replaced.”U.S. FDA, “Things to Consider Before Getting Breast Implants,” Last updated September 8, 2022
Some women have revision breast augmentation surgery (a second surgery after the first) within as little as 3-6 months after getting implants, while others may not need a revision for 3-5 years, or more commonly, every 10 years or so.
There is no guarantee you will need to have your breast implants removed.
And there is no way to tell whether you will need them removed or replaced without first getting them. (That’s not to encourage you to do so, but to point out that there are no known tests that would alert you to whether breast implants would be a problem for you or not.)
You may need to have your breast implants removed and/or replaced for a number of reasons, the most common of which have to do with the implants themselves causing problems in your body: Capsular contracture (where the scar tissue that naturally forms around all breast implants starts to get hard and contract),
Earliest breast implant patient still has her first implants
Since breast implants first became available in the 1960s, they have gone through a number of large and small improvements over time, to become more natural feeling, more durable, and generally less likely to create problems for the patient who has them.
Given all of these many developments over a span of five decades, saline breast implants will tend to have the shortest lifespan, while silicone breast implants will have the longest lifespan.
But neither saline or silicone breast implants are guaranteed to last a lifetime. They may. But it’s not a guarantee that they will.
Saline vs Silicone Lifespan
For this and other reasons, saline breast implants have also fallen out of style to some extent. Decades ago, most breast augmentation surgeons and their patients opted for saline breast implants, with only a small percentage of patients choosing silicone. Today, those numbers have completely flipped: Silicone breast implants are now as popular as saline breast implants once were.
Decades ago, approximately 85% of women chose saline breast implants, and 15% of women chose silicone.
Today, approximately 85% of women choose silicone breast implants each year, and only 15 percent of women choose saline implants.
Again, this may be due to the lifespan that silicone breast implants have, which is typically longer than the lifespan of a saline breast implant.
One of the first women ever to get silicone breast implants, Timmie Jean Lindsey, a Texan, also still has her breast implants to this day—the very same pair of implants she received in the 1960s.
Factors that determine breast implant lifespan
Six key factors likely determine how long a patient’s breast implants will actually last:
- Implant Type: Silicone implants usually last longer than saline implants.
- Surgery/Surgeon: An unsterile OR or poor operating technique could introduce bacteria, or leave saline implants with a faulty valve, or lay the groundwork for other problems. While most of these conditions would not cause the implant itself to deteriorate, what they could create are problems that result from the body’s reaction to the bacteria introduced.
- Patient Lifestyle: Implants can be deflated (saline) or otherwise affected (silicone) if a patient’s chest is subject to sufficient force, such as in an accident. Another way a patient’s lifestyle or choices would affect how long their implants last is in the size of implant selected. Implants that are too large will cause problems faster than implants that are “too small” would cause. That could make additional surgery or implant replacement necessary.
- Unknown or Genetic Factors: There’s an element of the unknown here: Some patients may be more prone to experience such complications as capsular contracture, and it’s difficult if not impossible to predict who that will be.
- Implant Generation: Implants have been around for decades, and some of the newer implants are better than older implants were. Newer generation implants are usually created specifically to address problems with earlier implants, such as them not feeling quite natural, or them being prone to leaking or damage in certain cases.
- The Unexpected: There is always the chance, such as occurred in the PIP breast implant scandal, where a brand’s breast implants might just be very poorly made. Unfortunately, the way that comes to light is when it’s reported by numerous patients, who naturally didn’t experience problems with their implants for many months or years before the extent of the problem would be apparent.
What shortens the lifespan of a breast implant?
Breast implants don’t last forever, but are there things that contribute to them lasting longer in some women and shorter in others?
Yes, there are.
When we look at an implant, some of the things that would limit its lifespan should be pretty obvious. Others, not so much.
Saline implant lifespan
The lifespan of a saline breast implant can be shortened by a number of factors or possible events.
- Impact to the chest could cause one or both breast implants to rupture.
- The valve through which saline breast implants are filled once placed could also begin to leak slowly over time.
- The implant could be affected by capsular contracture, a condition in which a woman’s breast starts to constrict or contract around the implant. The body—all human bodies—create a capsule of scar tissue around an implant or other foreign object placed inside of it. These scar capsules are not always problematic for all people. But for those who experience capsular contracture, the outward image of it can be very stressful and unflattering, and the feeling of it can be very painful.
- Lastly, other conditions can occur where the implants themselves are not affected, but their placement or position in the body could be. For instance, though your implants may be intact and not leaking, they could droop over time, or become too large or small for your liking. That would require another breast surgery. And your implants may or may not then “need to be” replaced, but they very likely would be replaced at that second surgery. (Since if you are going to undergo such a surgery, most surgeons will want to place new implants, and that’s usually a good idea.)
Silicone implant lifespan
The lifespan of a silicone breast implant can also be shortened by a number of factors or possible events.
- Silicone from a breast implant can leak, leech, or bleed out of the implant and into the breast tissue, sometimes even moving around to different parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes.
- Some women experience systematic symptoms as a result of having breast implants, or physical symptoms of clinically unknown causes which resolve when their implants are removed.
- Capsular contracture and other cosmetic concerns can also affect silicone breast implants, just as they can affect saline implants.
On average, how long do implants last?
If breast implants aren’t good for life, how long do they last?
How long a breast implant lasts depends upon a number of varying factors. But aside from simply avoiding any major impacts to the chest, and seeing a surgeon who knows what they are doing in the OR and takes steps to limit infection and other problems, there’s not much you can do to prevent any possible problems from occurring.
10 years is a good rule of thumb
Although breast implants don’t have to be replaced every 10 years, that timeframe is usually a good rule of thumb for when replacement or a check up with your surgeon might be needed.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the general consensus among most plastic surgeons. If you have no problem with the way your breast implants look and feel and they don’t seem to be causing you any problems, there’s usually no reason to have them replaced.
If you’re having problems with your breast implants 5, 7, or 10 years after you got them, or if you dislike the way they look or feel, that’s a good sign that you may want to check in with your plastic surgeon.
That second surgery is usually paid for out of pocket, but most implant manufacturers will cover the cost of replacement breast implants, if certain basic conditions are met.
According to Dr. Sanjay Grover, “All implants are warranteed by the US manufacturers for their lifetime, so if there is ever a failure, rupture or a deflation of an implant, the company will replace the implant at no charge,” and “There is no set rule as to when somebody needs to replace their breast implants.”
Signs that implant replacement may be in order
Aside from the passing of time and the aging of your breast implants, are there signs that they may need to be replaced? Yes, there are.
- Tightness in the chest.
- Pain stemming from or surrounding one of both breast implants.
- Change in the shape or hardness of the breast or the implant.
- Trauma to the chest or breast, such as a car accident or fall.
- Your breast implants have ruptured.
- One or both breast implants are moving around or rotating within the breast pocket.
These are not signs that you will have to have your breast implants replaced, but that a check up may be in order, and that replacement of one or both implants may then be an option or, in some cases, a necessity.
In Seven Signs You Need a Breast Implant Revision, Dr. Daniel Y Maman cites these as common indicators of implant replacement being possibly necessary:
- Your breast implants are causing pain or discomfort.
- Your breast implant has ruptured.
- Your breast implant has bottomed out.
- Your breast implant is moving or rotating.
- Your breast implant has changed shape.
- Your breast implant is causing capsular contracture.
- You are unhappy with your breast size.
You can read additional details on each of these seven signs here.