If you’re thinking about getting breast implants, you’ve probably wondered if they’ll eventually require replacement. And if so, how long do you have until it’s necessary to undergo that surgery? While many people have been told that implants need to be replaced every 10 years, that’s not necessarily true.
“There is a misconception that breast implants have a strict shelf life in which they must be exchanged for new ones,” says Lehi, UT plastic surgeon and consultant for Mentor, Michael Marion, MD, adding that that’s not entirely the case. While the average implant typically lasts between 10 and 20 years—and 20% of women who have saline or silicone implants get them removed (and often replaced) within eight to 10 years—the length of time that your implant lasts differs greatly from person to person.
Here, we break down why the 10-year replacement recommendation is a myth and exactly how to know when your implants need to be substituted out.
How do you know when it’s time to get a replacement?
As mentioned, implants are designed to be long-lasting but not permanent. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made recommendations regarding surveillance of breast implants, specifically looking for signs of rupture or leakage of the gel outside its shell,” says Dr. Marion. “The most recent guidance suggests patients benefit from either MRI or high-definition ultrasound five to six years after implantation and then every two to three years thereafter.”
Once a patient undergoes an MRI and sees signs of implant rupture on imaging, the consensus is that the patient should see their plastic surgeon for implant exchange. But a rupture isn’t the only time it’s necessary to replace your implants. “The other reason to consider breast implant exchange, even though there are no issues with the implant itself, would be the patient’s preference. For example, those looking for a different look or size may want a replacement,” says Dr. Marion.
Is it dangerous to keep your implants in longer than 10 years?
It’s not fully known why some women’s implants can be problem-free for decades and others have issues earlier. However, if you follow the FDA’s recommendation to get an MRI every few years and your results display that you’re not experiencing any ruptures, then it’s deemed safe to keep your implant in your body.
“We currently do not have evidence that leaving an older implant that’s otherwise intact and without obvious issue in place will cause problems to the patient,” says Dr. Marion. “However, we do understand, from long-term studies, the more common reasons that lead a patient to return to the operating room for another breast augmentation is simply their desire for a different result.”
Are there any ways to help prevent implant complications over time?
While every plastic surgeon has recommendations that they give to their patients regarding the best practices for breast implant maintenance, it’s really dependent on the implant themselves. “I believe that choosing an implant that is consistent with the patient’s chest [width] or native breast dimensions can help avoid problems that may require earlier operative interventions,” says Dr. Marion. “For example, an implant that is too wide for the patient’s frame could lead to the implant distorting or stretching the tissues and resulting in the implant settling off the chest into the side near the armpit.”
Two more specific recommendations that Dr. Marion gives patients at every follow-up visit is to wear an underwire style bra, especially when doing chest exercises or jogging, as well as taking an antibiotic prior to any subsequent invasive procedures. “The thought is to counter the effects of gravity and avoid stretching or distortion of the tissues around the implant,” explains Dr. Marion. “Taking the antibiotic [prior to any subsequent invasive procedures] is an effort to avoid bacteria traveling through the blood to contaminate the implant.”
Ultimately, the lifespan of breast implants will vary from person to person. Some won’t need a replacement for over a decade, while others might need it sooner. As with anything, it’s important to consult with your doctor in order to decide the best course of action for your particular situation.
The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and surgeons included; they do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Mentor