Given that the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the country is breast augmentation, a growing number of women are choosing to get implants to change the size and shape of their breasts. With an increase in interest comes an increase in questions, with many women asking how long their implants will last.
The reality is that breast implants are not considered to be "lifetime devices," but they are designed to be long lasting and safe. Patients can expect today's implants—the products of decades of research into stronger shells and more stable fillers—to last more than a decade, with the chance of rupture increasing about one percent each year. That means after a decade, there is a 90 percent chance that the implant will still be fully intact.
Women who choose breast augmentation with implants should be prepared to keep up with their regular annual checkups, as well as perform self-checks to ensure the devices are still intact.
A ruptured saline implant, for instance, should deflate relatively quickly—over several days, at most. While saline is sterile, a loss of fluid into the breast tissue is obviously not ideal. In this case, women can expect the implant—and breast—to noticeably change size and shape.
A leaking silicone gel-filled implant is more difficult to detect at home, which has led to the coining of the term "silent rupture." While a change in breast shape or size might be evident in this situation, patients may also experience a shift in sensation in the area or notice the formation of small lumps. They may also experience no obvious changes at all, which is why the FDA recommends that women who choose breast augmentation with gel-filled implants get MRI three years after their surgery, then every two years after that. Magnetic resonance imaging can detect leaks that would go undetected even during a doctor's physical examination.
Just as there is a range of body and breast types, as well as seemingly countless combinations of implant size, shape, shell, filler and placement, there will be a variety of ways implants will age throughout their lifetime. The breasts themselves will also change over time. Increased skin laxity, changes in body weight, and hormone shifts can all contribute to the look of breasts that have undergone augmentation.
Given that the typical breast augmentation patient will outlive her implants, maintaining a relationship with a board-certified plastic surgeon—preferably the one who handled the initial augmentation surgery—is a recommended way to prepare for the eventuality of a surgery to replace or remove the implants. Every breast augmentation patient should approach the procedure with the understanding that additional surgery is a likely reality for the future. Whether this takes the form of a breast lift to correct drooping breasts or the placement of new breast implants—or another procedure entirely—is up to the patient.
While many resources exist online, patients are advised to bring up any questions related to the lifespan of implants used for breast augmentation surgery during their consultation with a board-certified plastic surgeon.