Have you heard of Breast Implant Illness (BII)? If you haven’t, get ready because you will likely hear a lot more about it in the coming years. The FDA recently held two hearings to discuss the safety of breast implants, where many women testified to the chronic debilitating effects they have suffered since undergoing breast implant surgery.
You may have watched Yolanda Hadid suffer from BII on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, ultimately choosing to have her implants removed after doctors found she had free floating silicone in her body. Crystal Hefner, wife to late Hugh, has also opened up about her battle with the disease after having her implants removed in 2016, sharing that her breast implants had slowly poisoned her, leaving her bed-bound.
When I was young one of my mother’s best friends, Kate we’ll call her, had gotten silicone implants in the late 80’s. Kate was a petite, tan, and athletic soccer mom with two young children, and her implants seemed out-of-place jutting out beneath tight skin. After the implants, Kate got sick and didn’t get better, ultimately causing her marriage to implode under the stress of her illness. I would listen to her talking with my mother about chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein Barr virus, heavy metal poisoning, and how she couldn’t seem to get any answers from her doctors. Her hair began to fall out and she eventually become so sick that she had to send her children to live with her ex-husband in another state. Kate knew it was her breast implants, but her doctors were convinced she was crazy. I remember my mom hugging her in our backyard the day before Kate was scheduled to have her implants taken out. And sure enough, after she had them removed, she got better.
In 1992, the FDA temporarily removed silicone implants from the market, but 14 years later they were back.
In 2006, silicone breast implants were again approved for use in the United States by the FDA despite thousands of lawsuits claiming they leaked, caused connective tissue disorders, and even caused cancer.
Today, there are thousands of women experiencing the same constellation of symptoms, backed by definitive proof that textured silicone gel implants lead to Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large-Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that arises specifically in women with implants. First identified about 20 years ago, there are a few schools of thought as to why there are more reports of cancer and systemic illness with textured implants: the rough texture may cause more inflammation and long-term allergies, or the textured surface may provide a home for more bacteria to adhere to the implant.
Although BII is not officially recognized; it is becoming much more widely known and accepted and even appears in The Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. This is in large part due to social media and the thousands of women who have banded together, exchanging stories and information, supporting one another, and demanding change. They have refused to be told that they are hysterical, that they aren’t sick, or that it’s just in their head.
Doctors are taking notice, with many plastic surgeons specializing in explantation surgery. In April of this year France became the first country to ban textured implants, and Canada and the Netherlands are expected to follow suit. Even if the US does not ban the sale of textured implants, hopefully patients will be given more information before deciding to move forward with surgery. Change is coming.
Angela Kelly is the founder of GutsyMother, a health and wellness informational site and blog exploring the microbiome as it relates to personal health, fitness, and family health. She is also a freelance writer, mama to three small humans, a C. diff survivor, and a gut health enthusiast. You can find her drinking an obscene amount of green tea, swearing at the laundry, running, writing, or enjoying the beach with her tribe. Follow her on Instagram at @GutsyMother.