Everything We Know About The Latest Research On Breast Implant Related Illnesses

In recent years, the term breast implant illness has become a hot topic and a point of contention for many in the plastic surgery industry. But what is it exactly? "Breast implant illness describes a constellation of symptoms that is attributed to breast implants," double-board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Smita Ramanadham told PopSugar in 2022. According to Ramanadham, those symptoms can include but are not limited to chronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, memory and concentration issues, and even depression. "They can occur at any time after implants are placed," she explained.


In fact, the group of puzzling symptoms, along with a correlation between textured implants and a rare type of breast implant-associated non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, actually prompted the FDA to issue a black box warning on all breast implants on October 27, 2021. "The overarching goal of the guidance is to better inform patients about breast implants and breast implant surgery and improve communication between patients and their physicians," plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Keith Hood told Rush University about the federal agency's decision. 

But what does the latest research on breast implant illness tell us? Here's everything we know.

Breast implant illness is still somewhat of a mystery

The Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation (ASERF) conducted a 2022 study and found that 94% of women suffering from an array of real symptoms that they attributed to their implants showed a marked improvement following an explant surgery. Alas, researchers still couldn't nail down any single factor as the cause for the illness, including the presence of heavy metals and bacteria found on the implants and in the implant capsules compared to that of normal breast tissue with no implants. 


"We looked for different markers in the blood," clinical investigator and plastic surgeon Dr. Melinda Haws recalled during an interview with New Beauty. "The capsules were sent to pathology to detect bacteria, fungus, and any other type of culture. We also tested for heavy metals as many BII advocates believe heavy metals in breast implants are the cause. What we found was that there wasn't a smoking gun. There wasn't one thing we could point to as the cause," she concluded. Fortunately, the study was helpful in determining a course of action for those suffering from breast implant illness.

Study finds 'en bloc' explant surgeries are not necessary for symptom improvement

The Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation (ASERF) 2022 study uncovered a significant finding regarding the way in which implants are removed. While some surgeons are adamant that a patient suffering from breast implant illness should undergo a more invasive "en bloc" explant surgery wherein the entire implant capsule is removed while entirely intact as opposed to complete or partial capsulectomies, the researchers claimed that the study proved otherwise. "The bottom line is that we found that these patient's symptoms improve after implant removal, and they may improve without a capsulectomy which is a less invasive, less risky, and less expensive procedure," the study's co-author Dr. Patricia McGuire noted. 


Still, it appears not everyone is convinced of the study's findings. "I had somebody have a breast implant-associated lymphoma, so had I not done the operation the way I try to do it and take everything out intact, undisturbed . . . you could easily leave cancer in your chest," self-professed breast implant illness expert Dr. Robert Whitfield argued during the May 22 episode of the "The Skinny Confidential" podcast about the importance of en bloc procedures in regards to the rare cases of breast implant-associated lymphoma. "If there's retained capsule like somebody didn't remove it and they had biofilm, they'll still be symptomatic," he warned.