Breast augmentation surgery: Clinical considerations

Author and Disclosure Information




Although concerns persist, multiple studies have demonstrated the safety of fourth- and fifth-generation silicone breast implants with regard to autoimmune disease.7

In various clinical studies in mastectomy patients who underwent breast reconstruction with either silicone implants or autologous tissue, no difference was found with regard to the incidence of autoimmune diseases.2 Additionally, in meta-analyses of data from more than 87,000 women, no association was found between connective tissue disease and silicone breast implants.2,11 One study11,23 noted no increase in autoantibodies in patients with undamaged silicone implants vs patients who experienced rupture.

Studies have also demonstrated that in children born to mothers with breast implants, the risk of rheumatic disease, esophageal disorders, congenital malformations, and death during the perinatal period is comparable with that in controls.37 Another study, examining breastfeeding in women with silicone breast implants, showed no significant difference in silicon levels (used as a proxy for silicone) in breast milk compared with controls without implants; silicon levels were found to be significantly higher in cow’s milk and store-bought formulas.38


Breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is a subtype of T-cell lymphoma that develops in tissue adjacent to breast implants. It typically presents as breast swelling 2 to 38 years (mean of 8 years) after implant insertion.39,40 The swelling may be secondary to periprosthetic seroma formation or, more rarely, palpable disease in the axilla. Patients occasionally complain of pain and, rarely, constitutional symptoms.20 BIA-ALCL is not a disease of the surrounding breast tissue, but rather of the fibrous periprosthetic capsule.21

Of note, there is no documented case involving smooth implants,41–43 but it may be related to fifth-generation textured implants.6 At present, it is not possible to definitively state which implant is associated with this condition; hence, more data are needed, and this association is currently under study.

The absolute risk of BIA-ALCL was reported in a Dutch study39 as 1 in 35,000 by age 50, 1 in 12,000 by age 70, and 1 in 7,000 by age 75, with a number needed to harm of 6,920. Overall lifetime risk was estimated at 1 in 30,000 for women with textured implants in a 2015 US study.40 In comparison, breast cancer risk is about 1 in 8 women. There is no apparent predilection for patients who underwent cosmetic augmentation vs reconstruction, or who received silicone vs saline implants.

The diagnosis is confirmed by ultrasonographically guided fine-needle aspiration of seroma fluid and subsequent immunohistochemical testing for CD30-positive and ALK-negative T lymphocytes. Other than positron-emission tomography for staging after diagnosis confirmation, imaging is ineffective. Expert opinion does not recommend routine screening unless the aforementioned symptoms arise.

Treatment involves implant removal and total capsulectomy, with samples sent for pathology study with cytokeratin staining.12 Of note, in all cases of BIA-ALCL in which the disease was limited to the circumscribed scar tissue of the breast capsule, complete surgical excision has proved curative, whereas incomplete capsulectomy portends a greater risk of recurrence and decreased survival.44

In cases of advanced or recurrent ALCL, diagnosed late or inappropriately, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends a multidisciplinary approach involving adjuvant chemotherapy and radiation.44 Anecdotally, at our institution, we have recently treated several cases of advanced ALCL presenting with invasive chest wall masses with extirpative surgery and subsequent reconstruction with the assistance of our thoracic surgery colleagues, as well as the aforementioned multidisciplinary approach using adjuvant therapy.

The mechanism of this malignancy is currently under investigation, but the current theory implicates an exaggerated lymphoproliferative response to bacterial contamination of the capsule superimposed upon genetic factors in susceptible patients.42,43

National societies advise plastic surgeons to discuss the risk of BIA-ALCL with all patients at the time of breast augmentation consultation and to report all confirmed cases to the PROFILE registry (Patient Registry and Outcomes for Breast Implants and Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma Etiology and Epidemiology).45


Studies have shown that after undergoing breast augmentation surgery, patients note improvement in body image, and satisfaction rates range from 85% to 95% with respect to self-confidence and body image.46 An evaluation of patient responses on the validated BREAST-Q Augmentation Questionnaire showed the following satisfaction rates: breasts 83%, psychosocial well-being 88%, and sexual functioning 81%.15

Although epidemiologic studies have reported higher suicide rates in women with cosmetic breast implants, this likely stems from preoperative psychological factors and underscores the role of psychiatric referral in patients with a mental health history or in those whom the surgeon deems it necessary.46

Several high-quality studies have demonstrated that quality of life and psychosocial functioning (including depression) markedly improve after breast augmentation surgery.47 Among a cohort of Norwegian patients, breast implant surgery resulted in improved motivation to perform daily activities, as well as improved quality of life from both a psychosocial and aesthetic perspective.48 Interestingly, a recent study reported that patients who underwent breast implant surgery alone reported greater satisfaction and psychosocial quality of life than patients who underwent combination breast augmentation and mastopexy (breast-lifting) surgery.49

Additional data are needed to refine our understanding of the complex interplay between psychosocial factors before and after surgery in patients seeking and undergoing breast augmentation procedures.

Next Article:

Hypertension guidelines: Treat patients, not numbers

Related Articles