What is ‘breast implant illness’?

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Researchers are slowly gathering information about the negative effects breast implants can have on patients’ health. Last summer, implant manufacturer Allergan recalled its Biocell textured implants after the Food and Drug Administration linked them to a rare cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). Shortly thereafter, two women who received the carcinogenic implants filed lawsuits against Allergan, arguing that they would not have elected to get them had they known about the cancer link.

But cancer is not the only adverse effect of breast implants, though it’s certainly the most alarming one. For quite a while now, breast implant patients have complained that they developed a number of debilitating physical symptoms after their operations. Known colloquially as “breast implant illness,” this strange malady reportedly causes chronic pain, inflammation and nausea. Effected women say that the symptoms lasted for years and then disappeared after their implants were removed.

There is a lot of uncertainty and skepticism surrounding breast implant illness since, as of today, there is no test that can be used to diagnose it.

But a surgeon who specializes in the removal of breast implants says the affliction is very real. Dr Jae Chun performs approximately 500 breast explant operations every year. According to Chun, many of his patients report experiencing a range of symptoms including dry mouth, dry eyes, nausea and fatigue. The implants are thought to be responsible for these ailments.

Dr Chun says he reaches that conclusion by process of elimination.

“If you try all the treatments [for other potential causes] and they don’t get better, you wonder if they’re being caused by the implants and therefore breast implant illness,” he told Business Insider. “I believe it’s your body reacting to the silicone, but not like it’s a poison or toxin. It’s like penicillin. A certain percentage [of people] just can’t tolerate those materials because their body can’t take them.”

While he acknowledges that many other medical professionals dismiss the idea of breast implant illness, Chun says it’s only a matter of time before their opinions are changed.

“Eventually someone is going to blow the whistle and say, ‘Hey, that’s not quackery.’ People having the [explant] surgery are the drivers. A lot of women testifying in front of FDA are my patients,” he explained.

With that said, Chun stressed that he is not on a crusade against breast implants in general:

“I’m not a manufacturer who says [implants] are the holy grail of artificial material and no one can have any problems ever, but I’m also not saying they’re poison and the devil’s instruments. Rather, different people have different reactions to the implants, and that is a reality everyone should be aware of when deciding whether they want breast augmentation surgery.”

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll pass on installing foreign chemical objects into my chest.