In 2008, more than 300,000 breast augmentation surgeries were performed, according to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons. The purposes of the surgeries vary from vanity to reconstruction. Whatever the cause, there are some risks involved with having a breast augmentation. Breast implants are a foreign object that is placed in the body and the body is not always receptive; which can result in the breast appearing very thick and firm to the touch.
An actual breast implant cannot get hard, but the tissue surrounding the implant can. Whenever a breast implant is placed in your body a scar tissue will form around the object like a shell. The scar tissue is a very normal part of the healing process after a breast augmentation surgery. However, in some cases, the shell that forms around the breast implant will tighten and get hard. The hardening of the breast is more commonly referred to as “capsular contracture”. In order for the breast implant to return to its natural state of softness, it has to be released from the shell that has formed around it.
Causes of Capsular Contracture
Although there is not yet a specific cause for capsular contracture, there are quite a few theories. Some research suggests it may be caused by bacteria, while other studies point to breast trauma, disease, ruptured implants, or smoking and infection.
Severe cases of capsular contracture can give the breast a distorted shape, and in some cases, be very painful. According to Mentor and Allergan, a leading silicone breast manufacturer, capsule contracture can happen in up to 15 percent of breast augmentations. In an effort to prevent capsular contracture, some plastic surgeons will place the breast implant under the muscle. This practice can prevent the implant from being contaminated with bacteria. The surgeon may also irrigate the pocket the breast implant will be placed in and minimize the handling of the breast implant before it is put into your body.
When a patient has a mild case of capsular contracture, the hardening may be relieved by the surgeon simply massaging the breast implant in the hopes that this will release the implant from the scar tissue "capsule". Antibiotics and steroids are also used. In severe cases, the patient may have to undergo another surgery to have a portion of the scar tissue opened up or removed.