Breast Implants: Safety, Longevity & Replacement

Breast Implants: Safety, Longevity & Replacement

Written by: Dr. Nerina Wilkinson – MBChB (Stell), FCS Plast (SA)

We often have patients who’ve had breast implants for more than 10 years enquiring about the next steps. We find that they often didn’t know that implants don’t last a lifetime, or that they are experiencing a capsular leak (how did that happen?), some realise that they need a breast implant replacement, but find themselves with no funds to support it (would medical aid cover this?), and so wonder which alternative affordable procedures they could you undergo instead of getting fresh new breast implants.

Since the first breast augmentation in the early 1960s – breast augmentation surgery remains one of the most common surgical procedures performed today. Patients are having breast augmentation surgery at a much younger age, often in their 20”s. Many patients are therefore often faced with the decision of what to do after 10 -15 years of “wearing” their breast implants. And the questions often come about due to signs of breast implant rupture or concerns over whether their implants may rupture in the future.


The reality is that silicone breast implants are not forever and most patients never considered this fact when they initially decided to have breast augmentation surgery. The longer you have had a breast implant, the higher the chance that the implant could rupture.

I often explain to my patients when they are considering breast implants that they would need to change the implants after 10 – 15 years even though many companies would like us to believe that the implant should last a lifetime. I simplify the scenario by comparing the breast implants to a pair of shoes. We would definitely not be wearing the same pair of shoes, every day, for 15 years. The wear and tear on the shoes would make them prone to failure and one would not want to wait for the day that the heel or strap breaks off. Besides the imminent failure, we would possibly also want the newer technology/brand/ style of the shoe of the time.


In the past rupture (where there may be a hole in the shell of the implant) was a common problem seen by many plastic surgeons.

However modern implants are much less likely to do this as the quality of the outer shell of the implants has improved and the inner gel is more cohesive (ie silicone particles stick to each other like a set jelly).

In the unfortunate situation of a silicone implant rupture: the majority of cases we find that the silicone gel will remain within the capsule (or fibrous tissue) that the body forms around the prosthesis over time. In some patients, this capsule may thicken and tighten around the implant to cause “capsular contracture”. In severe cases, this can cause pain and hardening of the breasts

Often patients may undergo routine breast cancer screening and we may find that the implants have ruptured but that patients are totally asymptomatic.

Occasionally silicone gel may spread outside the capsule into the surrounding tissues and lymph nodes where it can create lumps that patients can palpate under their arms.

An Independent review by MHRA has concluded that medical-grade silicone is totally safe. It is important to remember that silicone is frequently used in the body in many other ways such as wrapping silicone around cardiac pacemakers. Therefore if you are having any symptoms of implant leakage, there is no need to panic. You have time to make a decision on how you would like to proceed.


Breast augmentation surgery is a cosmetic surgery procedure and therefore most medical aids would not cover a new set of breast implants or the replacement of ruptured breast implants. Patients need to therefore at the time of their primary breast augmentation surgery realize that they will possibly encounter later costs when planning on replacement in the future.

Many implant companies have “implant replacement policies”. However, the first one needs to prove that the implant ruptured due to a definitive implant defect, and often 20 years later that specific implant company may not be trading anymore.


A defective implant needs to be removed with the complete capsule that the body formed around the implant. There are then 3 options for the replacement of breast implants:

Removal of the breast implants only

This is often the case in older patients who are post-menopausal. They would often have naturally increased their own breast size and are happy to have smaller breasts during this period, so opt for simply removing their breast implants. This procedure is often couple with breast lift surgery to ensure the breasts remain perky post-procedure.

Replacing breast implants with new ones

If however, the patient developed a high grade of capsular contracture ie hardening of the surrounding breast tissue, the new implant should be relocated to a new position ie in front or behind the muscle to prevent the possibility of a recurrence of the capsular contracture. At present, my breast implant of choice is the new designer Motiva Ergonomic Minimal scar breast implant.

Breast fat transfer

In patients who do not want to replace their silicone implants but who still would like to retain some volume, then breast fat transfer would be the procedure of choice. Your own body fat can be harvested from one area of the body and injected into the breast to improve the shape. The advantage of Autogenous fat grafts over breast implants is the lack of complications associated with the implantation of foreign material.

Women who desire large, firm, or round breasts may not be an appropriate candidate for breast fat transplants as fat grafts result in a more natural-looking appearance. Similarly, fat grafts to the breasts are not a viable option for women lacking significant sources of donor fat for liposuction i.e. very thin, as the volume required is very high. Lipofilling can realistically only achieve a natural, small 100cc volume breast augmentation result.


If you have had breast augmentation surgery it is important to have the implant history for you and your surgeon to make educated decisions on your breast implant health and future planning.

I find many patients in my practice walking into my rooms in Jimmy Choo’s shoes clutching a Gucci bag.

However, whenever I ask these patients, what implants they are “wearing” very few are able to give me this information!

Your surgeon should have provided you with documentation and your implant ID card after your breast augmentation surgery. This card will supply you with details of the make, size, surgery date and batch number. It is important to always keep this card in a safe place for future reference. If you no longer have this information, contact your surgeon who should be able to provide you with these details.


I suggest to all my patients that it is sufficient that they see their plastic surgeon once a year. Self-examination is highly recommended and immediate consultation is necessary if their breasts change in size or shape or develop lumps.

The longer a woman has breast implants, the more likely she is to experience local complications or adverse reactions. Women need to monitor their breasts for the rest of their lives.


Beautifully shaped and size breasts definitely make women look and feel womanly, sensual, and confident. For this reason, breast augmentation surgery has been one of the fastest-growing procedures and extensive research and advances have been made to continuously improve the quality of the implants. As doctors and patients, we should therefore continuously stay up to date on the newest technology. Think about it: was there anything wrong with your last cellular phone? Possibly not, but you still chose to upgrade to the next version…

To discuss the ideal next steps for your breast implants and future breast implant health, be sure to schedule your breast surgery consultation with us by emailing

Written by: Dr. Nerina Wilkinson – MBChB (Stell), FCS Plast (SA)