The Myth Of Breast Implant Illness

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There’s been a growing movement of people online, particularly among social media groups, promoting the idea that breast implants cause every health problem known to man. Basically, these groups full of hundreds of thousands of women blame breast implants for everything from cancer to autoimmune diseases to nonspecific symptoms like “fatigue”.

Now, these people can obviously all believe whatever they want and do as they wish, but many well-meaning women are getting sucked into this nonsense and removing their implants (or worse, having En Bloc explant surgery that removes the entire capsule of scar tissue that surrounds the implant) in hopes of it helping their conditions.

These women are then left with not only the same health problems they were promised would resolve once the implant was removed, but also are often left with a destroyed and disfigured body that always requires further surgery to fix.

Here’s what often happens… A woman has her breast implants removed for whatever reason, has deep internal psychological damage from permanently disfiguring her body, and projects that hate for her personal situation onto everyone around her. She uses manipulation, shame, and motivated reasoning to justify her (often unconscious regretful) choice for breast implant removal.

She joins or starts a social media group based around amplifying her pain through finding and idolizing similar anecdotes, all with the goal of recruiting yet more women into their hivemind of regret. It’s unethical as fuck.

They promise you a panacea to all your ailments, and they even have “approved” surgeons available to remove your implants, ones that have a steady stream of income from finalizing the psychological damage through physical disfiguration of vulnerable and scared women. These women then repeat the cycle with others, unable to escape the pain and regret of breast implant removal.

Thankfully, there are women who recognize this pain-cycle and have chosen to break free from it, sharing their own stories on social media. I recommend anyone who is involved in groups promoting the dangers of breast implants also involve themselves in groups based around women who fell for the same lies and regret doing so, such as Breast Explant Regret.

My hope with this article is to clear up the many misconceptions around breast implant safety and associated complications in a succinct manner.

First and foremost, breast implants are not without risks! You can find a list of complications acknowledged by the FDA on their website. But, these possible complications are local and related to the invasive surgical procedure combined with the need for cosmetic expertise, rather than being due to the breast implants themselves.

My focus isn’t on these local complications, but on the systemic ones fear-mongered about by predatory women who are projecting their often erroneous beliefs onto other women they prey upon.

There’s no logical reason to believe that breast implants per se cause the systemic health problems often attributed to them. They are made from silicone, which is arguably the most biocompatible and benign material we know of. First FDA approved in 1962, silicone is now standard for orthopedic implants, cardiovascular implants, stents, structural cardiac implants, spinal implants, neurostimulators, ophthalmic implants, dental implants, and breast implants.

But, sticking with breast implants specifically, a comprehensive review published in 2019 was unable to find any meaningful link between breast implants and cancer, connective tissue diseases, mental health, neurological effects, or effects on offspring.

Few medical devices have undergone the degree of scrutiny and speculation that silicone breast implants have. At the present state, there is overwhelming evidence to support the safety of silicone breast implants.

The only harmful condition linked to breast implants is anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) — a cancer of the immune system. But this condition is almost exclusively linked to textured implants (as opposed to smooth implants) and is astronomically rare. One study documented the risk to be less than 1 case per million women with breast implants per year.

Hundreds of thousands of breast augmentation procedures have been performed every year for at least the last two decades — 212,000 in the year 2000 and 313,000 in the year 2018 — but the FDA has documented only 733 unique cases of ALCL, of which 620 (85%) were owed to the Allergan BIOCELL textured breast implants — the FDA ordered a voluntary recall.

More recently, the FDA has suggested that there may be a link between breast implants and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of non-melanoma skin cancer, as well as other possible cancers of the immune system (lymphomas). Yet, they openly state that less than 20 cases of SCC and less than 30 cases of various lymphomas in the capsule around the breast implant have been reported to them. That’s among the millions of individuals with breast implants.

So, these conditions are obviously astronomically rare, but it’s even worse than that. Case reports like these cannot establish causality, they can only create a signal that requires further investigation. And that investigation has provided a clear answer for why these conditions may occur — bacterial infections.

The role of bacterial biofilms in breast implant complications, such as capsular contractions and ALCL, is regarded as the leading theory explaining such occurrences. These bacteria are believed to cause subclinical infections and chronic inflammation, not just with breast implants, but with most other prosthetic devices. The reason most ALCL cases occur with textured breast implants is precisely because they are more susceptible to bacterial contamination.

I strongly recommend that anyone looking into breast implants ask about the surgeon’s capsular contracture rate. This is a non-negotiable data point that needs to be factored into your screening process. In my experience, most renowned surgeons have rates around 1%.

Another condition bacterial biofilms are likely tied to is the rare bird “breast implant illness”, something that the FDA acknowledges occurs but without evidence that it is due to breast implants per se. The ten most commonly reported symptoms are…

  • Fatigue (49%)
  • Brain fog (25%)
  • Joint pain (25%)
  • Anxiety (24%)
  • Hair loss (21%)
  • Depression (19%)
  • Rash (18%)
  • Autoimmune disease (18%)
  • Inflammation (18%)
  • Weight problems (18%)

All of these conditions are perfectly compatible with the bacterial biofilm theory. They all have inflammatory components that could be exacerbated by a subclinical infection and the associated low-grade inflammation it evokes. This requires further study.

Of course, as much as you may hate to hear it, there’s other possible explanations too — ones that come from the obvious fact that we can’t know whether breast implants were involved in any of these symptoms. What is known about breast implant illness comes entirely from people saying something bad happened to them and they attribute it to the breast implants. It’s a bunch of anecdotes based on assumptions, not data.

What if these symptoms came about due to age, despite the implants? Age is the number one risk factor for most health problems, and people grow older after getting breast augmentations.

What if these symptoms are just a nocebo effect? As the faulty beliefs around breast implant illness spread via social and popular media, many women could very well create the problems in their head — a potpourri of psychosomatic symptoms. I’d certainly experience fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, and depression if I spent as much time in these fear-mongering groups as many women inevitably do. Also, this isn’t a conscious process, so don’t take offense to this common psychological phenomenon. It is a very real possibility that you’re inundated with a bunch of false claims by a curated news feed, which makes you start making false associations yourself.

I think all three explanations likely occur together. Some women suffer systemic complications due to infection, or manifest false associations from a disease state or aging that was bound to occur with or without implants, and others manifest their own problems out of fear.

For those of you who made it this far, I truly hope this article helps clear the air on breast implant safety. Breast implant illness was never a huge issue until recently. Remember, social media perpetuates belief contagions too.

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