Breast Implants Essay, Research Paper
One of the first uses of silicone in a medical implant came in the form of
lifesaving tubes implanted into young children to funnel excess fluid from the
brain into the chest cavity, where the fluid could be safely metabolized and
excreted. Since these “shunts” were first used, in the late 1950s, silicone in
various forms has come to be an important part of many implants. “It is used in
tracheotomy tubes, in artificial lenses for the eye, in artificial heart valves
and in facial implants for birth defects or re-constructive surgery after
cancer” (Ames 1).
The most widely used implementation of silicone is through breast re-
constructive surgery through elective surgery of an individual, or re-
constructive surgery to replace breasts due to women recovering from
mastectomies from breast cancer or miscellaneous types of accidents.
The early history and use of implants showed no ill effects of the use
of paraffin or silicone. Because of this newly developed surgical process and
relatively little use of FDA guidelines there was no comprehensive testing done
to ensure the utmost safety of a silicone recipient.
By this time the millions of women throughout the world who already had
Dow’s silicone prosthesis implanted into their breasts had no idea of the
dramatic health risks. Because of these potential health risks, women should
avoid the use of breast implants.
In 1976, Congress gave the FDA authority to regulate breast
implants. By this time breast implants had been in use for a
significant amount of time and were considered “grandfathered.”
This means that they were allowed to remain on the market, even though they
have not gone through stringent testing. The FDA felt there was no evidence to
substantiate that the implants were harmful. Furthermore Congress also gave the
FDA the power to go back and require manufactures to provide proof that the
implants were indeed safe and effective, if it was felt that there was a reason
to do so. (Bruning 7)
“In 1977, Richard Mithoff, a Houston attorney, wins the first lawsuit
for a Cleveland woman who claims that her ruptured implants and subsequent
operations had caused pain and suffering. She receives a $170,000 settlement
from Dow Corning. This case received little publicity” (Frontline 1).
Since this case received little attention women from all walks of life
still continued to seek out cosmetic surgery.
In 1982 the “FDA proposed to classify silicone breast implants into a
Class III category that would require manufacturers to prove their safety in
order to keep them on the market” (Frontline 2).
It wasn’t until 1990 that heavy media exposure began to unveil the
possible links between silicone breast implants and various types of toxic
disorders. Connie Chung of Face to Face of this same year confronted Dow
Corning executives who vehemently denied any link to toxic disease from their
silicone implants (Frontline 2).
For better or worse, we live in a society that puts great emphasis on
appearance. This preference apparently knows no boundaries. In the 1940’s,
“Japanese prostitutes had their breasts injected with substances such as
paraffin, sponges and non-medical grade silicone to enlarge their breasts,
believing that American servicemen favor women with large breasts” (Frontline 1)
this is the case today as-well.
During the 1960’s breast implants made a boom as women discover that
there rolls in the job market can be increased by the way they look. With the
help of the sexual revolution women also found it pleasing to create a better
them through breast enlargement. Not only was there a desire for women to seek
this type of elective surgery, but prosthetic medical use for breast implants
was increasing dramatically from women suffering from breast cancer.
Many women have conflicting images of their breasts. On the one hand,
breasts are symbols of beauty, sexuality, and nurturing; on the other, they are
troublesome organs that are increasingly likely to threaten women’s lives. In
the United States the likelihood that a woman will be found to have breast
cancer has slowly and inexorably mounted since the 1930s, when some systematic
data collection began. The increase in diagnoses, already a cause for concern,
accelerated in the 1980s, growing by a rate of four percent a year. This year,
according to the American Cancer Society, some 184,300 women will discover that
they have the disease; another 44,300 will die of it. Of the women in whom
cancer is diagnosed, 9,200 will not yet be forty–nearly twice the number of
women under forty who were found to have breast cancer in 1970. “The disease is
now the leading cause of death for American women aged forty to fifty-five, and
causes women to lose more years of productive life than any other disease.
Numbers like these are why breast cancer is often called an epidemic” (Plotkin
Silicone as a synthetic plastic was first developed in the 1930’s. It
contains silicone, a natural material, combined with carbon, hydrogen, and
oxygen that have been polymerized, a process in which molecules are combined to
form more complex molecules. Silicone can be processed into three forms: a gel,
a solid like compound known as elestomer, and a fluid.
Early breast implants were made of polyurethane foam, paraffin, steel,
and grafts of human tissue. These were not successful and when the first breast
implant became available in the 1960’s through Dow Corning, they were held as a
breakthrough. Although an improvement, the first silicone implants had problems
Gradually the product improved. “With the advent of silicone gel,
implants felt softer and looked more natural” (Bruning 6).
With the development of the silicone implant there came about several
alternatives besides silicone. These alternatives include gel-filled implants
(the most frequent type used), saline-filled implants, and double lumen implants.
Some have outer shells that are textured or coated.
Since extensive research had been conducted on the development of
synthetic implants and cosmetic surgery clinics have become increasingly popular
and economically affordable, women have sought out these clinics in droves.
This enabled women to feel more confident about themselves and gave them a
feeling of higher employability. For example, we see many women in the movie
and television industry who have opted for a more well developed breast. These
women such as Pamela Anderson Lee, La Toya Jackson, Helen Hunt, Lonnie Anderson
and Dollie Parton just to name a few, have had very successful careers not only
because of their acting or singing abilities, but because of a better endowed
body. On a recent episode of the WB program Judge Judy that aired on November
12, 1996, the former actress known as Roz Kelley of Happy Days fame was
contesting a decision of a law suit about her breast implants which she claims
has caused Rheumatic disease. Ms. Kelley claimed that her fame was based solely
on her appearance and that is the only reason why she decided to get the surgery.
A witness for the defendant was the actress Rhonda Shear of USA’s Up All Night
contended that although her implants had helped her career, it was not why she
elected to have the surgery. The surgery was done out of personal choice and
her statement for the defense was that “all women who have cosmetic surgery,
make a conscious choice in doing so.” There was no coercion involved.Not only
in Hollywood do we see this type personal enhancement performed, but in
magazines, modeling, and in the exotic entertainment industry also. Why is
there such a dramatic emphasis on these women who decide to increase their bust
line? That question remains known only to the individual who elects to have the
Because this type of surgery has become so popular, many women in
today’s society have elected to have breast augmentation solely for cosmetic
purposes. “When the ASPRS (American Society of Plastic and Re-constructive
Surgeons) survey asked women why they chose to have breast augmentation, the
three most common reasons given were: The desire for a more proportionate build
(93%), a more appealing appearance (83%), and a boost in self confidence (76%)”
(Bruning 27). The ideal woman started to become taller and thinner. Men
desired slim hips and large breasts. This image screams at us day and night on
TV, at the movies, in magazines and newspapers, and at the health clubs. Women
have fallen into the epitome of “buy this product and you will belong to the
club of the attractive and well endowed” (Bruning 27).
In September of 1991 the FDA after receiving numerous complaints
issued a public report stating that silicone breast implants would not be deemed
safe or harmful until further studies could be conducted. This statement
outraged many women who had already began to feel the effects of their implants.
“Implants, both ruptured and intact, have been charged with causing a tremendous
array of diseases. These range from memory loss to difficulty swallowing to
joint pain to decreased sex drive to “skin tightening” to autoimmune diseases
and even to cancer. Some have referred to this broad constellation of symptoms
as “silicone gel syndrome” (Doyle 1). The first public hint of serious problems
did not surface until 1977, when an investigative story of breast enlargement
was published by Ms. Magazine contained a revealing article the headline “A 60%
Complication Rate for an Operation You Don’t Need” (Bryne 81-82).
After a shocking discovery from investigating Dow Corning’s
internal memo’s, thousands of these memo’s revealed lack of long term
testing, complaints from doctors, and leakage of silicone from the implants.
The most outrageous incident discovered was complaints from surgeons of
implants rupturing in the operating room, as they tried to install them into
women’s breasts (Byrne 98).
Pathology reports indicate considerable silicone reaction to the extruded
material can cause severe foreign body reaction in susceptible individuals. A
letter written to Dow Corning from Charles A. Vinnick a predominant cosmetic
surgeon in California wrote: ” I am loathe to publish my series of cases as I
feel that it may open Pandora’s box. I do feel, however, that rapid
dissemination of this information is very necessary to protect your comapny and
my colleagues” (Bryne 98). Vinnick complained to Dow about an incident when he
removed a pair of silicone implants, the gel in a ruptured implant was terribly
runny while the gel inside the other implant was of ideal cohesion. This
difference led him and some others to believe that when silicone gel came into
contact with tissue fluids and fat the gel’s consistency changed.