Breast Implants

breast implant

breast implant, saline- or silicone-filled prosthesis used after mastectomy as a part of the breast reconstruction process or used cosmetically to augment small breasts. An implant consists of a fluid-filled, malleable pouch that is designed to mimic to the look and feel of natural breast tissue when inserted into a pocket created under the skin in a procedure called a mammoplasty.

After reports that leakage from silicone-filled implants might be causing autoimmune diseases (e.g., lupus, arthritis, scleroderma) in some women, the Food and Drug Administration in 1992 called for a moratorium on their use outside clinical trials. The ensuing scare resulted in the largest product liability settlement in U.S. history and the Chapter-11 bankruptcy of Dow Corning Corporation, one of the makers of the implants. Despite legal settlements in the billions of dollars, the claims against silicone-filled implants remain anecdotal; numerous scientific studies have found no link or only a weak equivocal link between the implants and disease. The use of silicone-filled implants was again approved by the FDA for reconstructive surgery in 1998 and for cosmetic surgery in 2006.

In 2010 silicone-filled implants manufactured by the French company Poly Implant Protheses (PIP) were banned after it was discovered that the firm had used industrial-grade, instead of medical-grade, silicone gel. Industrial-grade silicone has more contaminants, and French authorities advised (2011) that French women have the implants removed because they were believed to have a higher than normal incidence of rupture. Some countries adopted similar recommendations, while others did not; the implants had not been licensed for use in the United States. A 2012 British report on the PIP implants found that the gel used in them did not constitute a long-term health threat.

See M. Angell, Science on Trial (1996).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Silicone Breast Implant Story: Communication and Uncertainty
Marsha L. Vanderford; David H. Smith.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Assessing Causation in Breast Implant Litigation: The Role of Science Panels
Hooper, Laural L.; Cecil, Joe S.; Willging, Thomas E.
Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 64, No. 4, Autumn 2001
Debating Biology: Sociological Reflections on Health, Medicine, and Society
Simon J. Williams; Lynda Birke; Gillian A. Bendelow.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Enhancing Biology? Cosmetic Surgery and Breast Augmentation"
Arguments from Ignorance
Douglas Walton.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Safety of Silicone Breast Implants" begins on p. 112
Body/Politics: Studies in Reproduction, Production, and (Re)Construction
Thomas C. Shevory.
Praeger, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Breast Size and Women's 'Choice'" begins on p. 189
Science in the Courtroom A New Approach
Dresser, Rebecca.
The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 29, No. 3, May 1999
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