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Enjoy Your Implants - And Your Health

Enjoy Your Implants - And Your Health

updated

A Canadian study of more than 40,000 women has produced intriguing findings — those with cosmetic breast implants enjoy a lower-than-average mortality rate from heart disease, cancer, and other major illnesses.

Does this mean, then, that breast implants have a hidden health benefit? Not quite. The study’s heartening results appear to stem from double-selection bias: Women seeking breast enhancement must be in reasonably good health in order to undergo the surgery, and they generally also enjoy above-average socioeconomic status, which means they have easy access to excellent health care.

Most of the discrepancy in death rates between the augmented women and the general population resulted from the former group having lower rates of cancer — especially breast cancer — and coronary heart disease. Only 229 of the augmented women died from cancer over the course of the study; 303 such deaths would be expected in the general female population.

These findings are contrary to the belief that breast implants are a risk factor in cancer and other major diseases, thus confirming the findings of earlier, much smaller studies. Furthermore, a full two-thirds of the women tracked had silicone implants, while 18 percent had saline (the other 18 percent of women had an unspecified type). This is timely news, as silicone implants are on the verge of a major comeback.

The study, funded by Health Canada and published in the August 15th edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology, tracked 24,558 women who had undergone breast augmentation between 1974 and 1989, as well as 15,893 women who had undergone other forms of cosmetic surgery in that same period. Both groups were compared to the general population of women, revealing the significantly lower mortality rates from disease, as well as another finding — increased suicide rates.

Higher suicide rates had previously been observed among plastic surgery recipients; some postulated that implant complications drove women to the act. However, the Canadian researchers found support for quite a different scenario: Those who undergo cosmetic surgery tend to have above-average rates of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and use of psychotherapy, and this translates to a 73 percent higher suicide rate compared to the general population. The study’s researchers advised plastic surgeons to pay attention to their clients’ psychological states and refer them to mental health professionals if necessary.

Nonetheless, the study helps put to rest the persistent worry that breast implants can cause cancer and other health problems. Implants won’t save your life, but they won’t take it, either.

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