With that said, it’s true that breast implants are not considered lifetime devices. Depending on how early in life you have implants, there is a good chance you will need to replace them for a specific reason, such as leakage, a rupture, or migration and unevenness. It’s a matter of debate among surgeons (and patients), and there is no one right answer as to how long breast implants last. The estimate that most surgeons give is 10 – 20 years for a set of implants. But the data is variable (especially once you factor in the differences between silicone implants and saline implants).
However, if you do wind up replacing your implants, your recovery from a replacement surgery will be much easier than the first surgery. Most of the pain women experience during recovery from breast implant surgery comes from creating the pocket under the muscle. Once the surgeon creates this pocket, it’s there for the next go-round, and performing a second surgery is much easier. Recovery is faster, and your surgeon may even be able to use the same scar.
Why Replace Them?
Some implant problems have obvious effects (such as discomfort from capsular contracture, or uneven appearance from mammary asymmetry), but others are much more subtle, and can take longer to manifest. That’s often the case with leaks and ruptures. For example, the saltwater solution from saline implants often leaks out (which isn’t harmful) at a rate of about one percent to five percent a year. It can leak because of a leak in the valve area, or a tear or hole in the implant. This leakage can happen with wear (sometimes called “fold fatigue” — the fold of your breast begins to weaken the implant). Your body absorbs the saltwater solution without any bad health effects, but the implant eventually deflates. Silicone can leak too, but it’s sometimes less obvious (which is why you may want to schedule routine MRIs). A silicone implant can rupture at any time, but one of the implant manufacturers reports a rupture rate of two percent per seven years.
Rupture and leakage capture a lot of media attention, but most women who get their implants replaced do so for other reasons. Also, with time, you may become dissatisfied with the size or position of the implant, especially if you’ve gained or lost weight. Plus, implant technology keeps improving. That means that in 15 years, there may be a new gold standard — which means you may want to switch to a newer, even more natural looking (and feeling).
If you’re making the decision about whether or not to get breast implants, it is a good idea to keep an eye on the long-term. But there’s no ticking clock on your implants, or a certain date they “expire.” Talk with your surgeon about what you can expect, and talk to patients who have had implants for many years (both original and replacement).