Do Breast Implants Expire? 

Anne Taylor, MD

If you have done your homework on breast augmentation with implants here in Columbus, Ohio, you may have come across claims that breast implants have to be replaced every ten years. Although it is true, many women choose to replace their implants around this time, that doesn’t always mean a complication or “expired” implant is to blame. If breast implants aren’t intended to be lifetime devices, what is their defined expiration date? (Spoiler alert—there isn’t one!) 

In this blog post I will explain why women opt to replace their implants, how long you can expect your implants to last, and signs to watch out for that signal you’re ready for a revision. 

How do I know if something is wrong with my breast implant?

Let’s start with the basics—how do you know if your implant is broken and needs to be replaced?  The answer is based on the type of implant you currently have, either saline or silicone gel.  The answer gets a little trickier with the silicone, so let’s start with saline.

How do I know when my saline breast implants need replacing?

You will know if your saline implant is broken because you will deflate, and the saline is absorbed by your body. You would notice that your breast size would gradually diminish to the pre-augmentation size, and sometimes you can feel the implant “bag” or shell gradually collapsing. When this happens, of course, you naturally contact your plastic surgeon and discuss the process for revision. While the saline implants have a warranty for 10 years, they can last much longer, and some of my patients have their saline implants last over 20 years. The adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies to this situation. If you’re not noticing signs of an implant collapse, you do not need to replace a saline implant.  

We do know that the longer any implants are in place, the higher the likelihood of breakage. So with the saline implant after 10 years, it could happen at any time, and it might occur at an inconvenient time. Some patients do not want to just wait, choosing to go ahead and replace their saline implants at a time that is convenient for them. The breast augmentation revision operation is quite a bit easier physically, and I like to do these on a Thursday so my patients can be back to work by Monday. Read more about breast augmentation revision in one of my earlier blog posts.

The saline implants are really quite durable, and some patients are interested in revision before the implants have broken. This can be from other concerns about saline implants, including the rippling feeling, the firmness, or even just the size not suiting the patient. Of course, implant revision can be done at any time if the patient desires and understands the decision. Here’s an example of one of my patients who had breast augmentation revision to go from saline to silicone implants.           

What happens if a silicone breast implant leaks? 

Now on to silicone gel implants. This is where the blog gets a little more complicated.   When a silicone gel ruptures, it is not easy to detect! Some patients are able to tell something is different, and some actually can feel some discomfort. But for most patients, there are no symptoms. This is why there used to be a recommendation from the FDA for these patients to be screened with imaging tests. This advice from the FDA has now been updated, and it is possible to use routine imaging to detect silent ruptures.   

How often should silicone breast implants be checked?

So, what if you are the patient who has had silicone implants in place for 10 years—now what? 

My best advice to my patients in this situation is to continue to get a yearly mammogram and continue to be “body aware” so that if there is any change, they can contact me. 

Mammograms have become quite good at detecting silicone gel rupture, and ultrasound can also be used to detect rupture.  With this new technology, there is an in-office, bed-side technique to get a “quick-look” and possibly alleviate any concerns.

After 10 years with the implants, if there is no detectable rupture and the patient is happy with the size and contour, my advice again is—”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  But active advance planning is helpful so that when it does come time for the revision, the patient is ready physically and financially.

What happens if you don’t replace breast implants?

Again, the operation to exchange implants is not very painful since the major operation was the first one. Over time, if the implants are not exchanged and are quite old, there can be a thicker scar tissue that forms around it, called the capsule. If this has occurred, the revision operation becomes a little more intense because this scar tissue must be removed along with the old implant.

The occurrence of the capsule can be unpredictable, and for this reason, you might see some doctors advise that addressing the “aging implants” is better off done sooner than later. I agree with this to some extent.  Again, if the patient is not experiencing any concerns, and there is only a slight firmness or capsule formation, then I think it is totally fine to watch this and follow along with the patient. 

So, you can see that the answer to “Do implants expire?” is a definite nope … but there is more that has to be discussed with each patient. When you are considering breast augmentation, you must know that the implants are not considered lifetime devices, so there will definitely be another operation. The best thing to do is to talk all of this over and keep in contact with your plastic surgeon.   

You can see some of my patients’ breast augmentation revision before-and-after photos to get an idea of the procedure’s results.

I hope this blog answered some of the questions you have. If you are ready to talk about your best breast augmentation options with a plastic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, you can call us at (614) 569-2649 to schedule an appointment. Or feel free to use our online contact form to request a consultation

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