Health

Why You're Hearing So Much About Breast Implant Removal Surgery

The procedure is becoming more common.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 05:  Reality TV Personality Clare Crawley attends ABC's "The Bachelor" seaso...
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Clare Crawley, a former Bachelorette, revealed in July that she would remove her breast implants after they were revealed to be the root of a mysterious health condition. In a video posted to Instagram on July 3, she explained that she’d had an elevated white blood cell count, eczema, and other unexplained symptoms for five years. After three mammograms and an ultrasound in early 2021, doctors had found fluid sacs behind her implants. “My body is fighting them,” she said. The implants were removed at the end of July, and Crawley shared on Instagram on July 31 that she’s doing well.

Experts tell Bustle that Crawley has joined a community of people who’ve chosen to get explant surgery. Crawley’s just one celeb who’s undone a breast augmentation in the past few years: Chrissy Teigen, Ashley Tisdale, and Yolanda Hadid have all gotten breast implants removed, citing reasons like discomfort or odd health symptoms. It’s becoming more popular, with data from the American Board of Plastic Surgeons showing that between 2017 and 2020, explant surgeries in America increased by 34.4%.

Why Do People Remove Their Breast Implants?

Alli, 33, removed her breast implants in 2020 after having them for 11 years. “I was in some pain due to the implant detaching from the muscle,” she tells Bustle. “It was causing a strain on my breast, and I had a lot of inflammation and rashes.” She also couldn’t exercise because of the pain.

Dr. Kelly Killeen M.D., a plastic surgeon with Cassileth Plastic Surgery, a Beverley Hills-based firm, tells Bustle that three groups of people generally come in for explant surgery. The first group feel they’ve outgrown their implants, or no longer want them for aesthetic reasons. The second is people who’ve experienced implant complications, like ruptures and leaks, or a change in the implant’s position. The third group is people like Crawley, who have health concerns and want to remove implants from the list of potential causes.

Dr. Lisa Cassileth M.D., a plastic surgeon also with Cassileth Plastic Surgery, tells Bustle that the condition Crawley described is called “breast implant illness,” or BII. “Some women have inexplicable health problems, such as chronic fatigue, autoimmune type disorders, joint pain, or many other symptoms, that they hope will be eradicated or improved by removing the implant,” she says. For people like Crawley, explant surgery is an attempt to get rid of implants that may literally make them sick.

There’s a bit of disagreement among scientists about what exactly BII is, and where its symptoms come from. A study of 3,000 people with silicone breast implants published in Gland Surgery in 2021 found that implants can degrade over time, and that could trigger inflammatory cells, which try to protect the body from threats. And a 2020 study from Annals of Plastic Surgery found that people who’d been diagnosed with BII showed huge improvement in 11 different symptoms 30 days after explant surgery. Tisdale wrote on Instagram that she got her implants removed because they could be behind “minor health issues that were just not adding up,” like food sensitivities.

What’s Breast Implant Removal Like?

Getting a breast implant removed can be an intense procedure. “For most women, the pectoral muscle is cut when the implant is placed, and is no longer connected to the ribs,” Dr. Cassileth explains. That muscle often needs to be repaired when the implant is removed to improve the patient’s strength. She says many people need the scar tissue around the implant, called the capsule, to be removed. Surgeons often do some fat grafting or a lift to add a bit of replacement volume, too.

Alli suggests that anybody who’s considering explant surgery goes with their instincts: If the implants just don’t feel right any more, she advises thinking about removal. “I like my natural breasts better, and my mental health has improved as well,” she says. “I’m much more comfortable in my skin now.”

Experts:

Dr. Lisa Cassileth M.D., plastic surgeon with Cassileth Plastic Surgery

Dr. Kelly Killeen M.D., plastic surgeon with Cassileth Plastic Surgery

Studies cited:

Fleury E. (2021). The contradiction of breast implant illness. Gland surgery, 10(6), 2081–2083. https://doi.org/10.21037/gs-21-135

Wee, C. E., Younis, J., Isbester, K., Smith, A., Wangler, B., Sarode, A. L., Patil, N., Grunzweig, K., Boas, S., Harvey, D. J., Kumar, A. R., & Feng, L. J. (2020). Understanding Breast Implant Illness, Before and After Explantation: A Patient-Reported Outcomes Study. Annals of plastic surgery, 85(S1 Suppl 1), S82–S86. https://doi.org/10.1097/SAP.0000000000002446