Are breast implants safe? Breast implant safety is a common topic on the internet. There is a wealth of data on the topic, and unfortunately a lot of it is not quality data. Drama and fear draw a lot more attention than a carefully done study showing safety. Which means that we only hear the scary stuff, and miss out on the full picture.
Annals of Surgery published a new article on breast implant safety.
In August 2018 the Annals of Surgery published a paper showing a correlation between breast implants and higher rates of melanoma and stillbirths.
This sounds terrifying, right? Could breast implants actually be causing skin cancer? Or worse yet, stillborn babies?
No- we cannot conclude from this study that breast implants cause increased skin cancer or stillbirths.
But I predict that this is exactly how the media is going to present the story. And yes, this is the conclusion of the study: that breast implants are correlated with higher rates of both melanoma and stillbirths. So once again we’ll have the media asking: are breast implants safe? Here are the issues with the study:
1. Poor follow up.
Only 20% of patients gave follow up information. The smaller the follow up, the more likely the sample isn’t accurate. Bias can also present because patients who have issues are often more likely to respond to survey requests. 20% is a pretty small number, so the data may not be accurate.
2. The data were self-reported, not based on a physician’s diagnosis.
This is a major issue! Patients misremember, or misunderstand, all the time. I frequently ask people if they have a history melanoma, and they usually just remember having a mole removed, not whether it was dysplastic, or a non-melanoma skin cancer, or melanoma.
3. Just because two things are correlated does not mean one causes the other.
- One classic example to demonstrate this: both ice cream sales and murder rates tend to increase at the same time (i.e. in the summer). Does that mean eating ice cream causes people to commit murder? Not at all!
- If you want a more thorough explanation of how correlation does not mean causation , check out this article.
4. The patients are not compared to a matched group. This is another major issue!
- Matched groups mean you compare your study group to a group of similar people who did not have breast implants: the same gender, approximate age, smoking status, weight etc.
- But the patients in this study were compared to the general population.
- Put it this way: If you looked at a group of 20 year old women who had breast implants and compared them to the general population, you might see decreased rates of heart disease. Does that mean breast implants prevent heart disease? Of course not! 20 year olds have lower rates of heart disease because of their age.
Breast implants have been studied to a ridiculous degree since the 1980s, when the first big health scare happened. What’s more, breast implants were actually studied extensively when they first entered the market. I’m currently in the middle of a fantastic book written by one of the surgeons involved in the first silicone breast implant safety scare, back in the early 1980s. You can get the book here:
So are breast implants safe?
None of the health claims made- that breast implants cause connective tissue diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus- have ever been proven true by scientific study. And possibly the best argument for the safety of medical grade silicone is the wide array of medical devices which use it. You’ll find silicone in everything from drains, to feeding tubes, to condoms and menstrual cups, to implanted medical devices like artificial joints or stents.
Dr. Greer is a Plastic Surgeon who practices in Cleveland, OH. Her passion is helping moms regain self-confidence by getting rid of sagginess, wrinkles, and stubborn fat. Read more about her at www.greerplastics.com.