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After many complaints that silicone breast implant devices ruptured and failed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned their use in 1992 for cosmetic surgical procedures. In 2006, the FDA rescinded the ban on the use of silicone breast implants. At that time, the FDA announced the silicone implants were “safe and effective,” although there were unconfirmed reports that silicone implants that failed may be linked to some connective tissue problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s statistics released last week, in 2012, 72% of breast implant surgeries in the United States used silicone implants; 28% used saline or sterile salt water implants. (WSJ, 3/11/13) The “shelf life” of implanted silicone breast devices is about ten years, and it is estimated that 50% of women who currently have the silicone implants will require their removal after 10 years. (WSJ, 3/11/13) Problems they may experience with silicone implants include infection, scarring and hardening of the area around the implant.

How did they become "safe"? There have been recent innovations to breast implants. A new “form-stable” silicone implant marketed by Allergan, Inc., appears to have a more firm construction, less potential leakage and resembles a more natural breast shape which lends itself well to reconstructive surgery. In 2012, however, breast augmentation surgery was the more frequently performed cosmetic surgical procedure with an average physician’s bill (not including hospital costs or anesthesia) of $3,900 for silicone breast implants, slightly less for saline-containing implants. (WSJ, 3/11/13)

To be sure, there are advantages and disadvantages to each type of breast implant. Yet, if a saline-containing implant ruptures, the saline fluid is reabsorbed by the body—so no worries about free-floating silicone to cause trouble; and there is possibly less scarring with saline implants as they require a smaller incision (WSJ, 3/11/13).

If a saline breast implant is ultimately safer, then why go with silicone?

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