Breast augmentation is a common procedure, and it is not uncommon for women as young as 18 years old to get breast implants. This raises a question: how long do breast implants actually last?
Implants do not last forever. A good guess on how long they might last would be around 10 years, but I’ve also seen patients who had implants placed 15 years ago that still look good. There are generally two reasons a breast implant would need to be replaced.
- Capsular contracture. This is when scar tissue forms around the implant, causing the breast to become firm and painful. Capsular contracture isn’t all-or-nothing; it occurs along a gradient. So a person with mild capsular contracture may not notice anything at all, but a Plastic Surgeon can detect it on physical exam. When capsular contracture becomes severe, however, the breast implants can look distorted, and be quite painful. If you have capsular contracture, the decision to replace your implants is one that you would make together with your Plastic Surgeon.
- Implant rupture. Implants do rupture, at a rate of about 1% per year. With saline implants the rupture is easy to detect; the saline is reabsorbed by your body and the implant deflates. Rupture can be more difficult to detect with silicone implants, because the silicone stays in place. For this reason, the FDA has recommended women with silicone implants have an MRI three years after their augmentation, and then every two years to look for implant rupture. Even if a ruptured silicone implant goes undetected, (i.e. your implant is ruptured and you don’t realize it) the silicone doesn’t go anywhere. It just stays in the breast implant pocket.
Long story short, if your implant looks or feels different, I recommend seeing your doctor so he or she can examine your for a capsular contracture or implant rupture. And every woman should see her Plastic Surgeon, Ob-Gyn, or Primary Care Doctor for a breast examination yearly.