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Different types of implants

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Breast implants

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What type of breast implant?


Breast implants are available in a variety of shapes, forms and sizes.  A breast implant can be made of natural body tissue or synthetic (man-made) materials, such as saline or silicone breast implants.  Natural tissue breast implants are usually only used on women having breast reconstruction surgery (after breast cancer treatment) and are rarely used for cosmetic purposes. This is because they carry the potential for breast implant complication due to an increased risk of side-effects and scarring as tissue is taken from other parts of the body.


A breast implant contains different types of filler material inside a silicone elastomer shell.  In the UK the two fillers used are Silicone Gel and Saline.  In other countries patients might be offered hydrogel-filled breast implants, soya bean oil-filled (Trilucent™) breast implants or titanium coated breast implants but these are not available in the UK and in fact the Medicine and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advised women who already had Soya bean oil-filled (Trilucent™) implants to have them removed. 


Silicone breast implant

Silicones are a family of chemical compounds and made of silicon, a natural element found in sand, rock and quartz, which becomes silicone when mixed with oxygen, hydrogen and carbon.  Silicone breast implants can be filled with a firm, jelly-like silicone or a softer fluid silicone.  The firm silicone keeps its shape even if the implant tears inside the body and reduces the risk of the silicone entering the bloodstream.  One advantage of the silicone breast implant lies in the fact that soft silicone is less likely to wrinkle and feels more natural.

Breast implants guide

Saline breast implant

Saline breast implantsare filled with a sterile salt-water solution, which can be pre-filled or filled through a valve during implant surgery.  As the solution is similar in consistency to natural body fluids, it can be absorbed safely into the body if the implant ruptures.  A potential saline breast implant complication lies in the fact that some women find that saline breast implants decrease in volume over time and are more likely to deflate.  Saline breast implants are also more prone to wrinkling and can feel or appear less natural than silicone.


Reconstructive breast implants

A quite different type of breast implant is often used in breast reconstruction surgery. The surgeon may decide to use a tissue expander, a silicone outer shell which is inserted under the chest tissue and gradually inflated with injections of saline (sterile salt-water solution).  Once the expander has stretched the skin and muscle enough to create plenty of healthy new tissue, it is replaced with a permanent implant.  Women who have had a single or double mastectomy may choose to have immediate or delayed breast reconstruction. Immediate reconstruction involves breast implant surgery at the same time as the mastectomy is performed.  Some women prefer this as it can help them to recover more quickly on a psychological level.  However, there are often increased risks of infection and other complications such as deflation and the operation and recovery times may be considerably longer. 


Delayed breast reconstruction is carried out some time after the mastectomy and is advisable if the patient is still undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy.  Another option after mastectomy is to have reconstructive surgery without the use of breast implants. This type of breast reconstruction is called Tissue Transfer Surgery and involves using tissue, skin and muscle from another part of the body to mould a new breast

Guide index

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