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Questions & Answers

Here are questions most frequently asked about breast implants. The answers are from surgeons who have performed thousands of breast implant operations, and are based on their experience.

If you are thinking about having breast implants, you may want to know all about them before making a decision. Hundreds of thousands of women already have them. The information provided in this Q&A section is based upon the experiences they have had.  

If you write to the society by email, your questions and the answers given will be added to this section. For the email questions received click on Email questions and answers.

Q: What kind of implants are available?

A: The most common types are gel filled and saline filled. Each has a silicone rubber envelope. Since 1991 the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has restricted use of gel filled implants. The saline implants continue to be available in a silicone rubber envelope with a smooth or textured surface.

Q: Is this breast operation dangerous?

A: There is some risk with any operation. The information in this booklet describes some risks and complications inherent with breast implant surgery. This operation is about as dangerous as a tonsillectomy but not as dangerous as an appendectomy.

This operation is performed under local or general anesthesia and usually on an outpatient basis. The patient arrives for surgery in the morning, has the operation and goes home that same day without staying in a hospital.

Q: Can breast implants cause cancer?

A: In the millions of cases where breast implants have been used, there have been no reported cases where cancer was caused by the implant.

Q: Does breast implant surgery leave unsightly scars?

A: Whenever the skin is cut, a scar line remains after healing. The surgeon tries to make the scar as invisible as possible. Usually the small scar that remains is not easily seen. It may be under the fold of the breast, under the nipple, under the arm or in the upper part of the Naval, or umbilicus.

Q: What are the long-term risks of breast implants?

A: According to the FDA, "The two greatest concerns to most women with implants are cancer and autoimmune diseases. But at this time there is no proven association between breast implants and the development of these diseases."

FDA Backgrounder August 1991.

Q: How is the size of the implant determined?

A: By discussion with your surgeon. Your surgeon wants your new breasts to have a pleasing, balanced appearance in proportion to your shoulders, chest and hips. Filling a plastic sandwich bag with water and placing it in the bra can help determine the size desired.

Q: How long will the implant last?

A: "The exact life span of an implant is unknown and varies from woman to woman. Implants last many years in some women and have to be replaced more frequently in others." FDA BG Aug 1991.

Saline implants are expected to deflate eventually and may have a life span of only five to ten years, though they may last longer. The person choosing saline implants should expect to require further surgery to repair them in the future.

Q: How is the operation performed?

                    A: There are four ways to place an implant.

(See Figure 1)

1. An inframmary incision, which is an opening made in or just above the hidden fold beneath the breast.

2. An areolar incision is an opening made under the nipple.

3. A transaxillary incision is an opening made in the underarm.

4. An umbilical incision is an opening made in the Naval.

Implants may be placed above or below the muscle.

Based on your surgeon's experience and awareness of your specific needs and with dedication to your welfare and personal satisfaction, he will discuss which incision might be best for you.

Q: Does the implant prevent breast-feeding?

A: The implant is placed between the breast gland and the pectoral muscle (Figure 2) or under the pectoral muscle and does not usually interfere with the normal functioning of the milk ducts. Many women have been able to breast feed successfully after breast implant surgery.

Q: Will I still have feeling in my breast and nipples?

A: There may be reduced feeling right after surgery. With a few exceptions, sensation improves in a few months. There may be some permanent numbness.

Q: What is the implant made of?

A: It is made of a silicone bag filled with sterile saline solution. The bag or envelope of silicone may be smooth or textured. The implant may be partly visible or palpable through the skin of the breast and show wrinkling, rippling or cornering. Saline is water with a little salt in it.

Q: Can I expect any problems with my breasts after implant surgery?

A: Yes. Although thousands of women have implant surgery each year, each person's reaction to surgery is different. Breasts with saline implants may not look or feel normal. The most common problems are hardness, loss of sensation, hematoma, infection, rejection, deflation, asymmetry, wrinkling or rippling, distortion, rupture, and interference with mammography or breast-feeding. Cancer and autoimmune disease may occur, "But at this time there is no proven association between breast implants and development of these diseases." FDA BG Aug 1991 .

Q: What happens after surgery?

A: A simple dressing is placed over the incision. Then, your surgeon may recommend a good brassiere for support. A regimen of after care may also be suggested by your surgeon.

Q: How will I feel?

A: You will feel drowsy as the anesthetic wears off. You may feel some soreness, swelling or discomfort, but this is quite natural. You may feel tired and exhausted after surgery, but this and the soreness are normal and usually last only a short while.

Q: How long will it be before I can start normal activities?

A: Following surgery, your surgeon will give you specific instructions regarding your participation in everyday activities and athletics. Sutures are removed when the surgeon recommends. Your surgeon will advise you on resuming daily activities and discuss the need for a brassiere.

Q: How much will the entire procedure cost?

                    A: Fees will vary. You should ask your surgeon.

Q: Is breast implant surgery covered by medical insurance?

A: Usually not, but this too can vary. It is a good idea to check with your insurance company ahead of time if you have questions.

Q: What are some of the complications associated with breast implant surgery?

A: The normal surgical risks apply: bleeding, infection, scarring, anesthesia reactions, and others. (see Problems of Surgery). In addition to these, firmness of the breasts can occur due to a phenomenon known as capsular contracture around the implant. This firmness can sometimes be severe enough to warrant surgical correction. Saline implants may deflate.

Q: Does an implant cause or prevent detection of cancer?

A: Breast implants are not known to cause, but may delay detection of breast cancer. Self-examination should be performed once a month about a week after your period, when the breasts are usually not tender or swollen. This is recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS) whether or not a woman has breast implants.

Also, according to ACS recommendations, mammography should be performed once between the ages of 35 and 40, and every one to two years between the ages of 40 and 49, and every year after age 50. These recommendations are the same whether or not there are breast implants.

Breast implants may interfere with mammography and thereby delay diagnosis of cancer. Since the breast is compressed with mammography, it is possible for an implant to rupture.

Q: What about more information?

A: For more information, the FDA Hot line is 1-800-532-4440. As of April 1994 the FDA settlement number if you already have implants is 1-800-887-6828.  

The FDA web site about breast implants is

http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/breastimplants/      or


The FDA address is:

Food and Drug Administration

Breast Implant Information Service

Office of Consumer Affairs (HFE-88)

5600 Fishers Lane

Rockville, Maryland

A woman can report problems to the FDA by calling the FDA toll free number 1-800-FDA-1088. When calling the FDA, ask that the Consumer Information Update on breast implants be sent to you.

You may have other questions we didn't cover here. Be sure to write them down in the space below so you don't forget to ask them when talking with your surgeon.  



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The American Society of Cosmetic Breast Surgery 2018    Last modified: September 18, 2021