Types of Breast Implants

If you choose an artificial implant instead of using your own tissue, you may select from two types of filling materials - silicone or saline. Your plastic surgeon can answer questions you may have about implants and help you determine what may be best for you.

When having breast reconstruction with silicone or saline implant, an incision is made in the breast area and the implant is inserted under your chest muscle (the pectoralis), forming a bulge. The skin is then sewn back together. Implants alone usually work well for creating smaller breasts. If you need to have a larger breast, a tissue expander may be used, which is explained later on this page.

There have been some safety concerns with leaking implants in the past, but plastic surgeons assure us that if such a risk does exist, that the chances are very small. The FDA is continuing to study the long-term affects of breast implants. The most common problem occurs when the scar around your implant begins to tighten and squeeze the implant (making it feel harder). This is called capsular contracture. Treatment for this may involve removing or cutting the scar tissue, or perhaps removing or replacing your implant.

An advantage to artificial implants is that the implant surgery is easier to do than the transfer of your own tissue. Implants require much less surgical time than reconstruction using your own tissue, so the usual risks of anesthesia and surgery are lesser as well. Your hospital stay is usually about one to three days.

Silicone implants are filled with silicone gel, encased in a rubber-like bag. Since April 1992, they are available only to women having breast reconstruction. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) requires that all women who have silicone implants after breast cancer surgery be enrolled in a long-term research study.

These implants are encased in a rubber-like bag, lined with silicone, but filled with saline (salt water). Unlike silicone filled implants, these implants are available for cosmetic surgery (also called breast enlargement) and for reconstruction after breast cancer surgery. They have recently (as of 1995) become more popular than the silicone filled implants.

 © 1999 Michigan State University
Communication Technology Laboratory