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The History of Breast Implants

Breast augmentation is one of the most popular cosmetic procedures, with many patients benefiting from the surgery both aesthetically and emotionally after having their breasts reshaped and resized. Breast implants are more affordable and safer than ever before, which makes them a more accessible form of cosmetic surgery for those who are interested.

With the end of March seeing the 60th anniversary of the first breast implant procedure, we take a look back through the history of breast implants.

Before the breast implant

Although the first breast implant procedure was carried out in 1962, there were numerous attempts to augment peoples’ breasts before this. 1895 saw German surgeon Vincent Czemy perform the first breast reconstruction surgery by using a lipoma (a fatty tumour located just below the skin) from a patient’s body to fill the hole left by another tumour.

Around the beginning of the 20th century, medical practitioners injected paraffin directly into women's breasts. The results of this were immediate and were considered, at first, a success. However, this was short-lived, as patients suffered from side effects five to ten years after the procedure. These complications were painful and disfiguring and often required amputation. In some severe cases, the paraffin injection was fatal.

By the 1920s, paraffin injections had decreased in popularity, with concerns rife over the dangerous nature of paraffin itself. The trend was then replaced by another injection-based augmentation procedure. Popularised by Japanese sex workers, the process involved injecting industrial silicone directly into the breast. This procedure would often result in silicone granuloma and hardening of the breasts; both of these problems often required a mastectomy as treatment.

As the world became more aware of the dangers of injecting unregulated liquids directly into the breast, new procedures came forward. Breast enlargements through surgical implantations began to take place during the 1950s. Synthetic sponges were a popular choice for this procedure, but the results were not successful. The sponges hardened and lost their shape quickly over time, and gave rise to infections in the breast pocket.

The 1950s brought in a new desirable body type, with celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe idolised for having a larger chest. Playboy and Barbie continued to build on this desired body type and, as a result, women began using ‘falsies’ - a built-up bra with lots of stuffing to give the illusion of a larger breast. However, they were failing to replace the desire of having a surgically bigger breast, and research into the breast implant procedure continued.

The first breast implants

Texan surgeons Frank Gerow and Thomas Cronin came up with the idea of using silicone as a breast implant material in 1961. As a result, Cronin and Gerow are considered to be largely responsible for the direction in which breast augmentation processes take place to this day.

The two surgeons developed the first generation of implants in conjunction with the Dow Corning Corporation. Initially, the implants were tested on dogs and, once they were deemed safe, the first breast enlargement using implants took place.

On 29 March 1962, the procedure took place. Timmie Jean Lindsey, a housewife and mother became the first person to receive breast implants in history. Lindsey had opted to undergo the new surgery in exchange for the surgeons pinning back her ears.

The procedure was considered an absolute success, and doctors from across the globe came to bear witness to the results of the procedure.

Lindsey claimed that after the surgery her breasts looked “beautiful” and was very happy with the initial results.

Complications of implants

Lindsey’s surgery was completed in 1962 and she was initially pleased with the results. She would have check-ups with Dr Gerow periodically where he would photograph her breasts for analysis but did not discuss the safety of the procedure with her. Lindsey claimed that if he did tell her of any risks, she did not listen.

Lindsey’s issues began around ten years after her augmentation. Her breasts began to harden and she experienced shooting pains during aerobics classes. The hardening of the breasts (capsular contracture) is quite a common issue with breast augmentation procedures, with around one in five women experiencing it.

In addition to the capsular contracture she was experiencing, Lindsey also claimed to have suffered from rashes, a dry mouth, dry eyes and chronic fatigue. Opponents of the implant procedure led her to believe that she was suffering from symptoms of silicone damage.

Silicone damage is not uncommon and is one of the reasons that implants need to be replaced every ten to fifteen years.

Despite the frequent pain she experiences, Lindsey is still hesitant to get her implants removed due to her previous experience with medical negligence.

Have implants evolved?

Since Gerow and Cronin’s initial breakthrough with the first generation of implants, the use of them has continued to evolve and develop. Implants have gone through several development stages since then and are considerably safer now than ever before. Some of the improvements are as follows:

  • The implants now contain a thicker gel than in previous generations. The thicker substance allows the implant to keep its shape while still feeling soft.
  • This thicker substance in the implant has also allowed for the development of various shapes of implants. The variety of shapes can help patients achieve their desired look with ease.
  • Implants are now created with a rougher surface than previously. This surface reduces the risk of capsular contracture and increases the chance of the implant staying in place.
  • The implants are now designed with stronger, sturdier shells to reduce the risk of rupturing.

Although there have been significant improvements in the safety of the implants, it is still important to consider your personal safety before electing to undergo a breast augmentation. It is vital that you feel confident in your cosmetic surgeon and have discussed your options to find out which implant is best for you.

If you have undergone negligent breast augmentation surgery that has left you suffering, either emotionally, physically, or financially - contact us. A member of our team will be able to speak to you and discuss your options.

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