Breast cancer

Updated 04 September 2020

Less perky than usual? When to see the doctor about your breast implants

If they're feeling less perky than usual, here are a few things to look out for to prevent your breasts from going 'pear-shaped'.

  • If you experience pain, swelling or change in the shape of your breasts, you should see a doctor
  • Remember to have your breast implants checked at your annual gynaecologist check-up
  • After 10 to 15 years you might want to get your implants replaced

Whether you have breast augmentation to boost your confidence or as part of breast cancer recovery, it can be a life-changing procedure. 

But don't think you can simply forget about them once everything is healed up. Some of the complications that may arise over the years are for example capsular contracture (when scar tissue around the implant contracts and squeezes the implant), chest wall deformity, leakages, breast tissue atrophy, infections and displacement.

There are a few signs to look out for that might require a return visit to your doctor, whether it's a year after your surgery or 10 years later. 

We asked plastic surgeon Dr Vivien Jandera, president of the Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons of South Africa (APRASSA), how to ensure your breasts stay perky and what kind of complications to watch out for.

READ | FDA takes up decades-long debate over breast implant safety  

Recent surgery

It's incredibly important that you don't trust your precious breasts to fly-by-night surgeons. In South Africa, only registered plastic surgeons who are members of APRASSA may perform breast augmentation surgeries.

"If your surgery was recent, your doctor would have scheduled routine postoperative follow-up visits," says Jandera. This will be more frequent during the first few weeks after surgery, and you should call your doctor if you have any sudden onset of pain and swelling.

Annual check-up

Your breasts must be checked for any irregularities by your gynaecologist or doctor at your annual check-up, and after the age of 40, you need to ensure you get regular mammograms and sonars.

Sonars every other year, if your implants are older than three years, are also good to check for "silent ruptures", which might not be as easily detectable because the gel these days is designed to stay firmer in place.

The annual check-up is necessary regardless of the type of implant you have – saline, silicone, gummy bear, round, smooth or textured. In fact, you should have annual breast exams even if you don't have implants.

"If you experience pain, swelling or a change in the shape of your breast(s), it’s a good idea to have it checked out by your plastic surgeon," advises Jandeera. 

Also see the doctor if you're experiencing unusual hardness or roundness. 

READ MORE | 2 out of 3 women unhappy with their breast size. Could that harm their health?

How to look after your breasts

Besides your annual check-up, there are other ways to look after your breast implants according to Jandeera, like wearing a really good support bra that's the right size for you when exercising.

"You may also consider changing your breast implants after 10 to 15 years as they may not last for a lifetime," says Jandeera. "It’s a good idea to have a sonar after about 10 years to check the integrity of the prostheses."

Your body also changes through the years, so its important to ensure your breasts keep up with the changes.

"The technology of implants is continually improving – those available in 15 years' time will probably be better than the ones we have now."

READ | Breast self-examination: 8 steps

Image credit: Getty Images


Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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