After the recently confirmed nine fatalities that link breast implants to anaplastic large cell lymphoma or ALCL, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating 350 other cases of silicone and saline implants associated with this rare type of cancer.

Safety concerns are a high priority when opting for breast augmentation procedures, as both types of breast implants - saline and silicone - pose a series of health risks.

Although the choice between the two usually depends on breast anatomy and body type, which influence cosmetic results, saline implants are generally considered to be the safer option.

Shared Health Risks

Both types of implants have been approved by the FDA for cosmetic breast augmentation, as well as reconstructive surgery (following mastectomy for breast cancer).

One of their common characteristics is the outer silicone shell, present in either case, but they differ in material and consistency, with silicone implants offering a more natural look and feel.

While saline implants contain sterile salt water and can be inserted empty (to be infused during cosmetic surgery), silicone implants are pre-filled with silicone gel, whose texture closely resembles natural tissue.

Because breast tissue continues to grow even after adolescence, saline implants are recommended for women over 18, whereas silicone implants aren't available for patients below 22 years old.

Health risks associated with either type of implant include capsular contraction (scar tissue distorting the implant's shape), breast pain, infection, implant leakage or rupture, and changes in nipple or breast sensation. These complications can be amended by either removing or replacing the implants through additional surgery.

According to the FDA, both types of implants are associated with "a low but increased likelihood" of ALCL.

The Differences Between Saline And Silicone Implants

Silicone implants typically pose more health concerns. In 2011, the FDA updated safety guidelines regarding breast augmentation procedures, especially silicone-filled implants.

The most notable difference between the two types of implants is related to the severity of symptoms in case of implant rupture.

In the case of saline implants, the leaking contents are safely absorbed by the body and don't cause any health risks. A surgical intervention is however required to remove the empty silicone shell, but the implant can be replaced during the same procedure.

Nevertheless, a ruptured silicone implant is more difficult to detect, since its contents remain in place - unlike the saline implant, which simply deflates, making the rupture very noticeable.

The silicone gel leaking inside the body after a "silent rupture" hasn't been associated with any systemic or long-term health problems - for instance breast cancer, reproductive problems, or connective tissue disease - but it has been known to cause pain or changes in breast contour and shape.

The surest method to identify a silicone implant rupture is through routine MRI scanning. As per FDA recommendations, women with silicone implants should have an MRI scan three years after the surgery, and continue this investigation every two years.

Routine checkups and mammograms are highly important because of the hazard of implant rupture, since 20 percent of women with breast implants require removal surgery within eight to 10 years.

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