The rise, fall and rise of breast augmentation
Friday 20 January 2017

In 2015 over 9,500 women elected to have breast augmentation in the UK. The vast majority were for cosmetic reasons, women who wanted larger breasts or whose breasts had become smaller after having children.

Surgery for breast enlargement has developed enormously over the last 70 years to a safe and predictable level, leaving women feeling much more confident about themselves after surgery.

The first attempts to enlarge women’s breasts were in the 1950’s, particularly in the Far East who had been impressed by western culture brought by GI’s stationed there during and after the 2nd world war. They received injections of paraffin, silicone, rubber and other materials with very poor results.

In the 1960’s Dow Corning developed the first type of silicone implant and in 1962 Tammie Lindsey, a Texan,  became the first woman to receive breast implants and considered herself a pioneer. Rumour has it that all she wanted was a tattoo removed from her breast but the surgeon saw that she was small breasted and asked if she would like to volunteer for the new implant. She agreed as long as her ears were pinned back at the same time.

Tens of thousands of women received implants over the next 20 years , until a growing number of them started developing  autoimmune diseases, such as Rheumatoid arthritis and a lawsuit was taken out against the company and went to court in 1984. There was no scientific data to support the connection between silicone implants and the various diseases these women had suffered,  but the plaintiff was successful nonetheless. This encourage a growing number of lawsuits until a multibillion dollar class action in 1998 was successful and the company filed for bankruptcy. It was not until 3 large world-class trails were done that it was shown there was no connection between implants and the diseases these women had suffered.

As a result there was a moratorium against using silicone in the implants in the USA until 2006, although the envelope was always been made of silicone but there was no such ban in Europe and the UK.

The implant itself however has changed radically over the last 50 years in 2 main ways. The silicone content has become more robust, giving the breast a more natural feel and the number of shapes and sizes has expanded considerably. This has been beneficial for both women and their surgeons offering greater control over the final shape and volume of the enlarged breast. It also gives greater piece of mind that the implant is less likely to rupture and leak.

We have had problems however, such as the PIP implants scandal in 2011 which have dented the patients confidence in cosmetic surgery. The French company who manufactured these implants, used cheap industrial grade silicone and poorly designed implant envelopes but concealed this from the German authorities that had inspected the company. They had been informed 3 days before the authorities arrived and replaced the vats of industrial grade with medical grade silicone. The kitemark of approval was given and healthcare agencies across the world accepted this authorization without independent verification. However the envelope rupture rate was over 3 times higher than expected and investigations revealed that these were subquality implants. This led to a major review of the cosmetic industry which has increased the protection of the patient from poorly manufactured products and from medical practioners who do not have the qualifications to offer cosmetic procedures. However the British Association of Aesthetic plastic surgeons (BAAPS), the medical society for authorized cosmetic surgeons,  do not think the changes have gone far enough yet.

In the 2015 over 9,500 women in the UK had breast enlargement for cosmetic reasons , an increase of 12% on the previous year, a sign that both the industry and the patient are feeling more confident in the future. 

If you are considering breast surgery you may wish to book a consultation with Mr James Colville, Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. For more information or to book in please contact us either online or by calling 01372 221441.

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