Breast Implant Illness – are your implants making you sick?

Breast Surgeon Dr Mary Ling puts the issue under the microscope

What is breast implant illness?
Breast implant illness (BII) refers to a wide range of symptoms that can occur after cosmetic augmentation or reconstruction with breast implants. 

BII is not currently recognized as an official medical diagnosis, but it is increasingly being acknowledged. In 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released recommendations to breast implant manufacturers for new breast implant labelling, including warning women they may develop systemic symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, chronic fatigue and autoimmune diseases. 

BII is still poorly understood, with good quality scientific evidence lagging behind anecdotal stories. 

How common is it? 
There have not been any studies looking at the number of women with breast implants who develop BII. In recent years, more women have been reporting BII symptoms, which may be because social media groups and media coverage have raised awareness of the condition. 

What are the symptoms?
Many of the symptoms of BII are also experienced by the general public on a frequent basis. Some of the symptoms are listed on the diagram (left). The symptoms can appear at any time after implant surgery.

Who is at risk? 
BII is more likely to occur in women who have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, allergies and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. 

How is BII diagnosed?
There is currently no specific test to diagnose BII. Generally, tests are performed to exclude other potential causes of the symptoms (unrelated to the breast implants).

What is the treatment? 
Surgery to remove the implants (explant surgery) and its surrounding tissue capsule (capsulectomy) can improve symptoms of BII. Capsulectomy can be:

  • En bloc – removing the implant and capsule in one piece
  • Total – removing the implant and the capsule, just not in one piece 
  • Partial – removing the implant and part of the capsule 
  • It is generally recommended that implants are not replaced if the main reason for removal is BII. 

What are the outcomes after explant surgery? 
There is not much research on outcomes after explant surgery for BII. Case series have reported women with partial or complete resolution of symptoms after explant surgery. 

Is Breast Implant Illness the same as Breast Implant Cancer? 
No. Breast Implant Illness (BII) is a completely separate condition to Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). BIA-ALCL is a rare cancer of the immune system that occurs only in women with breast implants. It is not breast cancer, but rather a type of lymphoma that grows in the tissue capsule which the body has formed around the implant.

Unknown incidence1 in 1000 to 1 in 10000
women with implants 
Any type of implantsTextured implants
Wide range of systemic
symptoms
that can affect
the entire body
Local symptoms: persistent
breast swelling or pain, lump in
breast or armpit 
No specific testsUltrasound and MRI breasts and sampling of fluid around implants
Breast implant removal with capsulectomy may improve symptoms
Breast implant removal with en bloc capsulectomy is usually curative

FAQ. – What will my breasts look like after explant surgery? 

Your breasts will not look the same as before your original breast implant surgery. The weight of the implants stretches your tissue and causes changes in the rib area. After surgery, breast sagging and deflation occurs, which may improve over the course of 3 months. 

The appearance of your breasts after explant surgery depends on: 

  • The size of your implants: larger implants will have more stretching effect on the natural breast 
  • The size of your breasts before implants: women with naturally smaller breasts will be less affected as there is less skin and breast tissue to sag
  • Body changes while having implants (e.g. weight changes, pregnancy, menopause): hormonal and weight changes will often make your breasts saggier and without the extra volume of the implant, your breasts may look more deflated
  • Your age: small breasts in young women may contract back to close to their original appearance, whereas, older women have less elastin and collagen in their skin and are less likely to revert back

Additional procedures such as a breast lift and/or fat grafting can be performed to improve aesthetic outcomes.

Dr Mary Ling. Specialist Breast Surgeon
Rapid Access Appointments within 48 hours
for patients with new diagnosis of breast cancer

Suite 6/16 Hills Street, Gosford Phone: 4321 0302      www.drmaryling.com.au

Learn More About Breast Implant Removal Surgery

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