What are the Safety Risks of a Breast Augmentation?

Nov 24, 2022

Maybe your breasts are droopy and deflated from age or breastfeeding. Maybe one’s bigger than the other. Or maybe, they’re just too small, and you would really like a fuller chest to complement the rest of your figure.

A breast augmentation can help you with all of these, but since it involves surgery, there will be risks. If the surgery part has you feeling anxious, you’re not alone. Few people relish the idea of going under the knife.

What are the Safety Risks of a Breast Augmentation

(Gustavo Fring / pexels)

Fortunately, adverse outcomes from breast augmentations are very rare. According to the FDA, they hover around 1%.

In this article, our Lexington breast augmentation team will walk you through the steps of a breast enlargement surgery and address the major risks. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be ready to consult with your breast augmentation surgeon and make the most informed decision about getting implants.

What are the steps of a breast augmentation?

Before you make a decision, it’s good to know exactly what you’re going to encounter. Here’s a summary of the process:

  1. Anesthesia. Administered by an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist, the anesthesia will ensure that you do not feel the pain associated with the surgery. While it is possible to get local anesthesia, which blocks the pain in your chest while you remain awake, most women opt for general anesthesia, which will send you into a deep sleep until after surgery.
  2. Incision. Depending on your unique anatomy, your doctor will choose an incision point where they can get the easiest access to your breast tissue while leaving minimal scarring. The incision will usually be in an inconspicuous place–either below your breast, at the bottom of your areola (the pinkish circle surrounding your nipple), or under your armpit.
  3. The “breast pocket.” Your doctor will then need to create a space for the implant to go. This involves separating the breast tissue from the pectoral muscles and creating an opening in front of or behind the pectoral muscles.
  4. Implants. Your doctor will insert an implant into the pocket. Silicone implants are pre-filled. Saline implants are inserted empty into your chest and then filled with salt water.
  5. Stitches. Once your implants are in place, your doctor will close up your incision (usually with sutures).
  6. Recovery. Most people can return home on the same day as the surgery. Your doctor will likely prescribe medication for your pain and have you wear some kind of surgical or sports bra to support your breasts as they heal. Follow your doctor’s orders for resuming normal activities. It will usually be at least four to six weeks before you can return to lifting things, exercising, etc.

How big of a risk is anesthesia?

General anesthesia is safer than it has ever been, and most people wake up without any complications. Your risk will be heightened if you have a history of reacting poorly to anesthesia or if you have diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or lung or kidney problems. You are also at a higher risk if you are obese, drink or smoke regularly, or have obstructive sleep apnea. According to the Mayo Clinic, serious complications from general anesthesia are less than 1 in 100,000 (<.00001%).

Could I get an infection from my breast augmentation surgery?

Infections are rare but can happen. According to the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open, a study of nearly 10,000 breast augmentation surgery patients over five years (through 2016) showed less than a 1% infection rate post-surgery (.38% to be exact).

Will I lose nipple sensation?

If you lose nipple sensation, it could diminish your feelings of sexual arousal in the nipple area and also change the way you experience breastfeeding (if you still plan to do so). Once again, this is possible but rare. One study showed that for surgeries increasing breast volume by up to 102%, 4% of patients reported a lack of nipple sensation 12 weeks after surgery.

Will I be able to breastfeed?

Studies show that the majority of women with breast augmentations are still able to breastfeed. This is because, in most cases, the milk ducts are kept intact during breast augmentation surgery. While some women may not be able to make as much milk as they would have pre-surgery, most can still breastfeed. If you are concerned about this risk, make sure to talk to your plastic surgeon.

Will my implants leak?

This is always a possibility. Implants may be ruptured during surgery, causing them to leak later. Pressure from a mammogram or force from something like a car accident can also cause your implants to rupture. And sometimes, the implants wear out over time and begin to leak.

When saline implants rupture, the saline solution will leak into your body, and you will notice your implant deflating. Fortunately, the saline solution is harmless, and your body will absorb it.

It’s common not to notice a rupture with silicone implants because the tissue surrounding the implant can keep the silicone trapped in place. This is called “silent rupture,” and it can irritate and inflame your breast tissue over time. Signs of a silent rupture include pain and swelling, a change in your breast size, and hardening of the breast (including lumps). An MRI can help detect the rupture. Occasionally, the silicone gel will migrate to other areas of your body, and it could be difficult to remove.

Regardless of what type of implant you have, if you suspect a leak, you should report it to your breast augmentation surgeon immediately. They will most likely recommend surgical removal.

What about capsular contracture?

If you’ve done much research on breast augmentation, you may have stumbled across the term “capsular contracture.” The “capsule” refers to the scar tissue that encapsulates the implant. It is normal for some scar tissue to form as part of your body’s reaction to a foreign object in the body. In fact, this can be good because it helps hold your implant in place. However, in some cases, the capsule will contract around the implant. This can result in your breasts becoming overly firm, misshapen, and, in rare cases, painful.

In most cases, capsular contracture occurs within a couple of years after the initial breast augmentation and requires a surgical repair. Sometimes the tissues can be loosened to give the implant more space. In other cases, the implant will need to be removed and replaced.

Does my breast augmentation put me at risk for cancer?

In the past, the FDA has issued warnings about possible links between breast implants and cancer. For example, in 2019, the FDA recalled a brand of implants (BIOCELL), which was manufactured by Allergan.

Among women with the BIOCELL implants, nearly 575 reported developing this kind of cancer, and 33 died from it. The implants were pulled from the market and are no longer in use.

In 2022, the FDA cited an elevated risk for certain types of cancer among women with breast implants. The cancer develops in the scar tissue, or capsule, surrounding the implant. The FDA did not recommend that women with implants have them removed as the risk is very low (only 20 cases of squamous cell carcinoma and 30 cases of lymphoma have been linked to breast implants).

However, they have warned women with implants:

  1. To check their breasts regularly and see their breast augmentation surgeon if they notice swelling, lumps, pain, or skin changes in their breasts.
  2. To keep the serial number from their implants (provided by their doctor after surgery). This helps you know if you are affected by any implant recalls in the future.

According to Mayo Clinic, “both saline and silicone breast implants are considered safe.” That doesn’t mean that there can’t be complications, but they are rare. In addition, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that 98% of women report satisfaction with their breast augmentation.

If you’re pondering breast implants, you will need to weigh the risks alongside the potential benefits. Our breast augmentation team in Lexington is here to help you understand potential complications in full. There are no dumb questions! We will walk you through the prep, surgery, and recovery processes and discuss what the surgery risks might mean for your specific situation. We look forward to helping you make an informed decision about your breast augmentation.