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Breast Implants: Oh, They Have Come a Long Way!

Breast Implants

These days, breast augmentation is one of the most popular plastic surgery procedures. Getting breast implants can help improve the proportions of a woman’s body, helping her to feel more confident about herself.  Given the high demand for augmentation, it might not be much of a surprise to learn that implants have a fairly long history.  The first silicone implants were introduced in the 1960s, but people had been experimenting with other options for decades before that.

The Early Days of Breast Augmentation:

The early days of breast augmentation were a strange time. Back in the 19th century, some surgeons used extremely unconventional methods to enlarge or reconstruct women’s breasts.  For example, in 1895, a German surgeon named Vincenz Czerny had a patient who was left with asymmetrical breasts after a tumor was removed from the chest.  Dr. Czerny had an interesting idea for adding volume to the breast: he took a lipoma, or fatty tumor, from another area of the woman’s body and transplanted it to her breast.  For what may be obvious reasons, his tumor as breast implant idea that didn’t really catch on.

Other surgeons were also trying out different methods of breast augmentation about the same time.  Another initially popular idea, in the 1890s, was to inject paraffin into the breasts to make them bigger.  Unfortunately for the women who received this type of augmentation, the paraffin ended up creating a lumpy look, and eventually they became hard to the touch.  To make things worse, those paraffin injections had a pretty high rate of infection.  By the 1920s, paraffin was out and other breast augmentation options were starting to come in.

Time passed and doctors gave a new type of implant a try. Sponges made out of a polyvinyl alcohol were used to augment the breasts. If you think "polyvinyl alcohol" sounds awful, you would be right.  In many cases, the sponges hardened, shrunk, or otherwise increased a woman’s chances for inflammation and infection. As a method of breast augmentation, those sponges were quickly abandoned, as well.

Perhaps the idea that would pave the way for the modern silicone implants available today was first seen in Japan in during World War II.  Prostitutes working in Japan during the war got the idea that American soldiers would prefer bigger chested women.  So, they began the practice of injecting themselves with silicone to increase their breast size.

Just as silicone injections are a dangerous idea today, they were a dangerous idea back in the 1940s. Something called "silicone rot," or gangrene in the area near the injection, was common, as well discoloration and other ill effects. 

The First Silicone Implants:

The first silicone implants were developed in Houston back in the 1960s, by two doctors, Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin, with the help of the chemical company Dow Corning. The idea for the implants came to Dr. Gerow after he felt a bag full of blood and remarked how it felt similar to a woman’s breast.

The first woman to get the implants was Timmie Jean Lindsey, who wasn’t totally into the idea, but agreed to the surgery after the surgeons also agreed to perform otoplasty to help flatter her ears. Even decades after her surgery, which took her from a B to a C cup, Timmie Jean has said in interviews that she is happy with the results.

The First Saline Implants:

Around the same time these doctors were working on silicone implants in Houston, a French doctor was creating the first saline implant.  Unlike the silicone implants, saline ones are designed to be inflatable after being placed in the breast.

Silicon’s Controversy:

Silicone implants were initially quite popular, but also proved to be controversial pretty much right from the start. In 1977, almost 15 years after they were first introduced, a woman from Cleveland won a lawsuit against Dow Corning, claiming that the rupturing of her implants led to pain and suffering. Concerns about the safety of the implants continued until 1992, when the FDA issued a moratorium on their sale and production. The moratorium lead to an increase in popularity of saline implants.

The Return of Silicone:

After years of studies, determining there wasn’t a link between silicone implants and cancer or autoimmune diseases, the implants returned to the market in 2006.  Today, silicone is preferred by many plastic surgeons because of their more natural look and feel.  Silicone implants are used in about 90% of breast augmentations.

If you’re considering breast augmentation and want to learn more about your options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Paul Vitenas.  The leading plastic surgeon in Houston, Dr. Vitenas performs hundreds of breast augmentation surgeries every year.  Call (281) 484-0088 to make your appointment.