What No One Ever Tells You About Breast Implants

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Whatever you think about breast enlargement – it sets feminism back 30 years; it helps some women find true body confidence – the fact is, more than 364,000 women will opt for it this year. This is what every one of them should know about the risks and decisions involved.

Our ideal world is a place where all women love almost all of their bodies and rely on a few simple fashion tricks to deal with the rest. But in this world, many young women take a more extreme approach to self-transformation and choose cosmetic surgery. The most common type? Breast augmentation. More than 364,000 women will get implants this year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; that’s an increase of nearly 40 percent from just five years ago. Yet surprisingly little good, unbiased information is out there about the procedure. Google it, and you’ll see rosy tales on implant manufacturers’ websites of women who love their new shape, or read horror stories of women who say implants robbed them of their health. It’s hard to get the whole story.

“Many of my first-time patients come in thinking breast augmentation is like a rhinoplasty or liposuction – you do it, it looks good and then you forget about it,” says Foad Nahai, M.D., a plastic surgeon and author of The Art of Aesthetic Surgery: Principles & Techniques. “One of the first things I tell them is ‘This implant is not permanent and it will inevitably fail and have to be changed.’ It’s remarkable how many people aren’t aware of that.” Did you know that implants don’t last a lifetime? Or that one quarter of all women will have a “redo” surgery within five years? Or that at least 20 different implant sizes now exist? Many women Glamour interviewed were unaware of these facts, even as they were about to go under the knife – so we set out to compile a guide to the truth, with the latest information from surgeons and women’s health experts.

To truly understand the nitty-gritty details, I got permission from Darrick Antell, M.D. , to observe a breast implant procedure. Dr. Antell is a board-certified plastic surgeon who has performed more than 1,000 implantations and is a spokesperson for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. His patient, Diane Gorumba, a 28-year-old Macy’s department-store clerk who hoped to go from a 34A to about a 34C, agreed to let me sit in. If you want to get implants, have a friend who does or if you’re simply an observer trying to understand America’s desire for bigger and bigger breasts, you should know what I found out in the operating room.

Implants come with health risks, and your doctor should tell you about them. Despite many charges to the contrary, studies have thus far found no conclusive link between implants and auto-immune. But there are other potentially serious complications. The most common — rupture and contracture, a hardening of the tissue around the implant that can be disfiguring and painful – affect up to 85 percent of women. In their initial consultation, Dr. Antell discussed these possibilities with Gorumba, which is exactly how a good doctor should counsel a prospective patient. But other women told Glamour that surgeons they’d seen downplayed the risks or brushed them aside completely. Marci Brehm, a 27-year-old model, went into her first consultation in 2000 with a laundry list of questions. “When I asked, ‘is there any way these implants could hurt me?’” she recalls, “the doctor said, ‘Absolutely not, they’re 100 percent safe. I’d put them in my own mother.’” Within weeks. Brehm developed extremely painful complications that lasted until another surgeon replaced her implants 18 months later.

This is serious surgery. When I entered the surgi-center at Dr. Antell’s office, Gorumba was fully sedated. Using a scalpel, he made a oneand-a-half-inch incision and then cut through the skin, breast tissue and muscle—to the point that her ribs were visible, looking like white sticks.