Breast Implants


One of the first uses of silicone in a medical implant came in the form of lifesaving tubes implanted into young children to funnel excess fluid from the brain into the chest cavity, where the fluid could be safely metabolized and excreted. Since these "shunts" were first used, in the late 1950s, silicone in various forms has come to be an important part of many implants. "It is used in tracheotomy tubes, in artificial lenses for the eye, in artificial heart valves and in facial implants for birth defects or re-constructive surgery after cancer" (Ames 1).
The most widely used implementation of silicone is through breast re-constructive surgery through elective surgery of an individual, or re-constructive surgery to replace breasts due to women recovering from mastectomies from breast cancer or miscellaneous types of accidents.
The early history and use of implants showed no ill effects of the use of paraffin or silicone. Because of this newly developed surgical process and relatively little use of FDA guidelines there was no comprehensive testing done to ensure the utmost safety of a silicone recipient.
By this time the millions of women throughout the world who already had Dow’s silicone prosthesis implanted into their breasts had no idea of the dramatic health risks. Because of these potential health risks, women should avoid the use of breast implants.
In 1976, Congress gave the FDA authority to regulate breast implants. By this time breast implants had been in use for a
significant amount of time and were considered "grandfathered." This means that they were allowed to remain on the market, even though they have not gone through stringent testing. The FDA felt there was no evidence to substantiate that the implants were harmful. Furthermore Congress also gave the FDA the power to go back and require manufactures to provide proof that the implants were indeed safe and effective, if it was felt that there was a reason to do so. (Bruning 7)
"In 1977, Richard Mithoff, a Houston attorney, wins the first lawsuit for a Cleveland woman who claims that her ruptured implants and subsequent operations had caused pain and suffering. She receives a $170,000 settlement from Dow Corning. This case received little publicity" (Frontline 1).
Since this case received little attention women from all walks of life still continued to seek out cosmetic surgery.
In 1982 the "FDA proposed to classify silicone breast implants into a Class III category that would require manufacturers to prove their safety in order to keep them on the market" (Frontline 2).
It wasn’t until 1990 that heavy media exposure began to unveil the possible links between silicone breast implants and various types of toxic disorders. Connie Chung of Face to Face of this same year confronted Dow Corning executives who vehemently denied any link to toxic disease from their silicone implants (Frontline 2).
For better or worse, we live in a society that puts great emphasis on appearance. This preference apparently knows no boundaries. In the 1940’s, "Japanese prostitutes had their breasts injected with substances such as paraffin,
sponges and non-medical grade silicone to enlarge their breasts, believing that American servicemen favor women with large breasts" (Frontline 1) this is the case today as-well.
During the 1960’s breast implants made a boom as women discover that there rolls in the job market can be increased by the way they look. With the help of the sexual revolution women also found it pleasing to create a better them through breast enlargement. Not only was there a desire for women to seek this type of elective surgery, but prosthetic medical use for breast implants was increasing dramatically from women suffering from breast cancer.
Many women have conflicting images of their breasts. On the one hand, breasts are symbols of beauty, sexuality, and nurturing; on the other, they are troublesome organs that are increasingly likely to threaten women\'s lives. In the United States the likelihood that a woman will be found to have breast cancer has slowly and inexorably mounted since the 1930s, when some systematic data collection began. The increase in diagnoses, already a cause for concern, accelerated in the 1980s, growing by a rate of four percent a year. This year, according to the American Cancer Society, some 184,300 women will discover that they have the disease; another 44,300 will die