Silicone Breast Implants – A 50-Year Retrospective

Once controversial, they are now safer and more effective than ever

Through out their half-century history, silicone breast implants have been the subject of heated debate. Few medical devices have experienced such longevity, despite being banned by the FDA for 14 years, from 1992-2006. And breast augmentation remains among the most popular procedures in cosmetic surgery.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), in 2011, of the 316,848 breast augmentations performed, 69 percent of those procedures used silicone gel implants.

Invented by American plastic surgeons Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, the first silicone implants in the U.S. took place in 1962. Two years later, in 1964, the saline breast implant was introduced as a medical device by the French company Laboratoires Arion.

Earlier silicone versions were problematic. Some devices ruptured, others resulted in autoimmune disorders and increased risk of breast cancer and still others were cosmetically unsatisfactory to patients. However, today’s implants aren’t your mother’s or even grandmother’s. Fifty years later, breast augmentation, is “a highly refined procedure that uses newer devices, made with better technology and a better understanding of how to minimize the risk of adverse events,” states Mark Jewell, MD, in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Plastic surgeons played a major role in bringing implants back to market by collecting data, performing research studies and advocating for patients based on science, reliability, and the freedom to choose one’s appearance. And along with being much safer, the latest generation of implants produces a more natural look compared to the round, smooth “Barbie doll” appearance of previous versions. Future enhancements include a wider variety of shapes and designs as well as additional refinements of materials and even safer polymers.

Perhaps equally important, patients are more likely to be thrilled with the results. “Plastic surgeons cannot simply be end users of a device,” adds Dr. Jewell. “We need to make data-driven decisions that improve the quality of our outcomes with all categories of breast implants.”

Photo: Candy stripe vintage pinup by Max Todorov on Flickr

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