THE EXPLANT PHENOMENON

10/23/2017 10:18 am ET Updated Oct 23, 2017

Why Women Worldwide are Opting for Breast Implant Removal

Today, nearly 400,000 women in the United States get breast implants each year - about 300,000 for cosmetic enlargement and a
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash
Today, nearly 400,000 women in the United States get breast implants each year - about 300,000 for cosmetic enlargement and about 100,000 for reconstruction after cancer., but are there more health risks than we think?

THE EXPLANT PHENOMINON:

Why Women Worldwide are Opting for Breast Implant Removal

Julia – a make-up artist and mother from Southern California - was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and a brain condition called Chiari Malformation. She tried every treatment the doctors prescribed, but nothing helped. About to give up hope, she was considering undergoing brain surgery when she saw a social media post from a woman who had almost identical problems -- until she had her breast implants removed.

Julia had gotten implants at age 19 for cosmetic reasons. “It seemed all my friends were getting them,” she told me. “I wanted a more sexy, voluptuous look. I didn’t research the risks and complications of putting them in. I wanted to look good.“

The term “explant“ was completely alien to me until I saw an image on Instagram nearly a year ago of a friend of mine in a surgical gown talking about her “explant recovery” and how she was thrilled to be herself again. I was intrigued so spent the next 11 months speaking with women who have undergone the little known - but increasingly popular - procedure known as Explanting -- the surgical removal of breast implants.

Once Julia had her explant procedure, the chronic pain in her back and upper left shoulder disappeared. The tension headaches were gone. The mysterious rashes, ringing in her ears, floaters in her eyes, insomnia, numbness in extremities: all completely gone.

Jennifer - a yoga teacher from South Florida - woke up from surgery to feel two heavy balloons on her chest. “I knew something was wrong and this was not at all what I wanted, but I was assured by the doctors staff that they were just swollen and would eventually go down. They said ‘they fit my body perfectly’ and ‘matched my hips.’

After getting her implants, all Jennifer wanted was to be her real self again. Turns out she’s not alone.

Emily is a blogger and former model who spends her down-time writing and sharing her love of healthy cooking and a positive lifestyle with her following.

Samantha is an artist, as well as a young adult cancer survivor and BRCA1 previvor – meaning she is a survivor of a predisposition to cancer having inherited a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 gene.

She is also the founder of Last Cut Project, a multi-media documentary project about those big life decisions (last cuts) made to bring us closer to living a life that feels like our own.

While these women lead very different lives, what they have in common is that they all recently Explanted.

Today, nearly 400,000 women in the United States get breast implants each year - about 300,000 for cosmetic enlargement and about 100,000 for reconstruction after cancer. Worldwide, an astounding 1.4 million women undergo the surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

But women like Emily, Julia, Jennifer, and Samantha are part of reversing those trends and as a journalist I was fascinated by their willingness to openly share their personal stories with me – many of which are extremely intimate and upsetting. As I dug deeper I also realized that it’s not just these women who are choosing to reverse their plastic surgery - there are thousands more women and men like them and my hope is that by highlighting their experiences, more of us will feel compelled to share our feelings and experiences about plastic surgery.

Here are some of the reasons why breast implant removal specifically may be on the rise:

1. Breast Implants Have Been Found to Cause a Rare Form of Cancer

Many still don’t know that breast implants are linked to a mysterious cancer (“breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma”) that has affected 359 women and killed at least nine.

Doctors still don’t know a lot about this lymphoma, which is different than breast cancer, but here’s what we do know: it shows up as late as 28 years after the surgery, and as soon as two years after. Most affected women had textured rather than smooth implants. If detected early, the lymphoma is usually curable.

To be clear, the overwhelming majority of breast surgeries do not cause cancer but, as late as 2015, less than one-third of plastic surgeons were routinely discussing this cancer with their patients, according to a doctor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Jennifer got breast implant for cosmetic reasons, but her hopes for a fuller, healthier look quickly turned into a nightmare.
Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash
Jennifer got breast implant for cosmetic reasons, but her hopes for a fuller, healthier look quickly turned into a nightmare. “I was given something I didn’t ask for. I just wanted to go up one size to a ‘full C’ and wound up with DD breast implants.” She told me.

2. Breast Implants Can Cause Other Medical Problems

Breast implants are associated with medical issues ranging from back pain, infection to numbness to capsular contracture to necrosis to leakage, scar tissue and joint pain.

Samantha tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation and, just eight months after giving birth to her only daughter, underwent a preventative double mastectomy. After the surgery, Samantha chose to get breast implants because she didn’t consider there was any other option.

“I was presented with the options of ‘here are the implants that most women get’. I was told I was too thin to use my own body fat to reconstruct my breasts. And I remember there being a little whisper of like, ‘Really, implants are my only option?’ If doing nothing was presented, it was certainly not presented without bias, and I don’t recall it being presented.”

Samantha described feeling uncomfortable in her own body for the eight years that she had breast implants, and after a friend shared she was having her implants out for health reasons Samantha explained, “It hit me like a lightning bolt that I wished to do the same.”

“I realized that my immune system was reacting to the silicone implants, or simply to the presence of a foreign body within my sensitive system. I had started eating well, exercising and taking overall good care of my body, but was still suffering from inflammation, numbness, discomfort, difficulty sleeping and a horrible MRSA staph infection. Since my explant surgery in January 2016, I have been able to heal and reclaim my body. The whole thing reinforced the importance of trusting and listening to our bodies.”

Many of the women I spoke to mentioned body pain with their implants and were surprised to see other women who have begun spe
Photo by Davide Ragusa
Many of the women I spoke to mentioned body pain with their implants and were surprised to see other women who have begun speaking out about their explant journeys share similar issues they thought only they had.

3. Breast Implant Surgery Mishaps Are More Common Than Most Realize

Jennifer also got breast implant for cosmetic reasons, but her hopes for a fuller, healthier look quickly turned into a nightmare.

“I was given something I didn’t ask for. I just wanted to go up one size to a ‘full C’ and wound up with DD breast implants.” She told me.

Six months after her surgery, she went back to speak with her doctor about removing the implants, which had rippled given their disproportionate size compared to her body. After lecturing her that “most girls come back to have them bigger,” the doctor agreed to inject silicone into her implants, but this also backfired; the doctor injected more than he had originally promised.

Desperate, Jennifer finally found an online forum, where she learned about Explanting. After finding a new plastic surgeon, she underwent the procedure. “I just wanted to be my REAL self again,” she said.

Medical mishaps like Jennifer’s are relatively rare in the United States -- but they do happen, given the high number of non-board certified plastic surgeons in practice across the country. And when they do occur, they can lead to complications -- ones that can be life-threatening.

“I realized that my immune system was reacting to the silicone implants, or simply to the presence of a foreign body within m
Photo of Samantha Paige by Lisa Field
“I realized that my immune system was reacting to the silicone implants, or simply to the presence of a foreign body within my system.” - Samantha Paige

4. Women are Embracing Their Natural Selves

The majority of women who get breast implants do so for cosmetic reasons but altering our bodies to feel better about our looks is not always successful and more women are starting to realize this.

“Electing to remove those heavy sacks lodged in my chest was the perfect metaphor for the last few years of my life,” said Samantha. “If something does not feel right, it is my responsibility to change it. I finally was able to own that my implants had never felt like part of me. Removing them was another opportunity to reclaim autonomy over my own being and tap into greater wellness, happiness and freedom.”

“The decision to opt for reconstruction with a double mastectomy is an incredibly personal one,” added Samantha. “What I believe we need to be rallying for is not one option over another, but the presentation of all options without bias. I might have had a very different experience if I had been told that many women choose to go flat.”

Emily is open about the fact that her implants were part of her body image struggles. Three years ago, she went to a plastic surgeon because -- in her words -- she looked in the mirror and said, “It’s not enough.” This year, she walked back into that same doctor’s office for an explant because she knew that she was enough, just the way she naturally was.

Many of the women I spoke to mentioned body pain with their implants and were surprised to see other women who have begun speaking out about their explant journeys share similar issues they thought only they had.

Julia said, “Women should learn to love and embrace themselves for who they are - nothing is more valuable than your health,” and as Emily says “I've never been happier and I've never felt stronger than I do now that I have decided to be just me.”

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