Removal of Implants alone or with Uplift (mastopexy)

Why do some patients have their implants removed?

Most patients will renew their implants, but occasionally some patients decide they want to have them removed and not replaced (explantation).

The breasts after explantation will be smaller, flatter, emptier and the skin will be loose with a lower nipple position. The results look worse if you have had very large implants and you have very thin tissue covering the implants, as when they are removed the breasts will look like empty bags of skin. It may affect your confidence and you must think carefully about how you will feel before having your implants removed.

These are situations where patients have reported a desire to have their implants removed:

  1. Original enlargement was too big and the patient now desires being smaller again. As long as this is done soon after breast augmentation breast shape returns quickly. If the implants have been in for years, there will be permanent age related changes and tissue sag. Patients with sag can opt to have a mastopexy at the same time, which will improve nipple position and remove excess skin. They can also opt to have this done at a later time having initially decided to see if there breast shape returns to something they are comfortable with.
  1. Breasts have got gradually bigger as weight has changed since the original augmentation. In this situation you might feel better if the implants are removed. As long as you don’t have a lot of sag, this can work well for some patients. Otherwise you can consider a breast uplift to improve shape.
  1. Problems with breast implants. A small number of patients get problems such as chronic pain, recurrent capsular contraction or a chronic seroma. Sometimes removing the implants is the best or safest option.
  1. With old age or ill-health it may be that breast implants are no longer desired. The important of a nice breast shape may decline such that the cost of renewing implants becomes a factor and it is simpler to have them out.

Risks and Complications

The risks of explantation are usually quite small. The operation is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic. If the implants are being removed due to problems such as capsular contraction or rupture then there may be extra work to do to remove capsule tissue.

In specific circumstances the implants can sometimes be removed under local anaesthetic.

Uncommonly you could get a haematoma straight after surgery, or a seroma in the weeks that follow after the implant has been removed, but this is usually a short term problem only.

The biggest problem is of course the cosmetic outcome that you are left with and this may leave you desiring additional procedures to improve your breasts. We would always advise that you give yourself plenty of time to adjust before making any decisions on additional surgery. You can wear padded bras, and mask the appearance while your breasts and body adjusts. If you have problems adjusting, become excessively focused and you feel this becomes intrusive, it would be important that you seek a specialist clinical psychologist who can help, such as Maggie Bellew at Spire Hospital Leeds. Otherwise get support from your friends, family and your GP.

Secondary surgical procedures after explantation are limited and expensive. If you have a lot of loose skin and a very low nipple position then a mastopexy will help. It brings the nipple back to the front of the breast and removes the skin that hangs below the crease of the breast. But it will not improve the volume. To improve the volume you might consider a series of lipomodelling operations.

Lipomodelling to improve breast shape after explantation.

Lipomodelling is a technique performed under general anaesthetic.  Each procedure gives a small improvement only and is expensive because of the hospital, surgical and anaesthetic costs each time. It costs around £2800-£3000 per session. You therefore must be realistic as to what it can achieve. Think carefully about your expectations and then discuss them with Mr Turton.

Localised deposits of fat usually from the lower back, bottom and outer thighs are removed by gentle liposuction, centrifuged to remove oil and blood and then the pure fat is injected in tiny quantities into the thin layer of residual breast tissue that you have and the muscle behind the breast. Fat is a living tissue and so must be injected into tissue (not the empty space where the implant was). The injection technique is critical to achieve permanent survival of the new cells within the breast. Mr Turton injects the fat as multiple layers of adjacent thin long threads like spaghetti, and only a limited amount of fat can be injected at one operation. The new fat cells will only survive for up to 48-hours without being in direct contact with blood vessels to provide oxygen and nutrition; new blood vessels need to form to supply their longer term needs and this process is strongly inhibited in smokers, which would be a complete contraindication to the procedure.

For every 200cc of fat that is collected, about 100cc will remain after centrifuge treatment for re-injection, and then of this around 50% is reabsorbed or broken down by your body before it develops a blood supply in the tissue and becomes stable. Because only about 100cc can be injected per session, you effectively gain 50cc of volume for every 200cc of liposuction procedure and so you would like need 3 lipomodelling sessions to get a noticeable improvement of just 150cc. When doing this on both breasts, the availability of a harvestable fat source becomes a limiting factor in slim patients.

You must wait 4-months in between each session to allow each fat graft time to be incorporated by the breast, so 3 sessions take a year and the costs will come to around £8500-£9000.

How will I feel after lipomodelling?

The incisions used for lipomodelling are tiny (3-4mm). Most patients are discharged the same day and apart from fairly extensive bruising and tenderness at the site the fat was taken they have minimal problems. You can normally go back to work within a few days with the majority of the bruising and swelling going after a week and rest being minor, resolving slowly over a few months. Care must be taken to prevent infection.

Uncommon risks include contour irregularities under the skin from where the fat was taken. Wearing a tight spandex garment reduces the chances of this. Numbness and pigmentation changes may occur but these should settle after several months. Very rare risks might be unknown with lipomodelling – when the procedure was first introduced around a decade ago, there was a theoretical risk that it could slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. This is probably because it was being injected into breasts after mastectomy or lumpectomy for cancer. Whilst this risk has not translated into any significant risk of cancer in practice one must remember that it is theoretically possible because fat contains some cells known as ‘Adipocyte-derived Regenerative Cells’. These are more like primitive stem cells and although the evidence to date does not suggest a higher caner risk, good quality long term studies are required to prove this although are unlikely to be undertaken.

How will I know if it has worked?

The process of liposuction is traumatic to the fatty tissue and some of the cells will not survive after they have been suctioned, separated form the blood and oil by being centrifuged and injected back in to your body .

If it is repeated too quickly you will experience hard lumps of dead fat (fat necrosis) and oil cysts will form. Lipomodelling to the breast always causes tiny micro-calcifications to appear on future mammograms which can interfere with assessment for the early changes of breast cancer, lead to extra tests such as biopsies to work out the cause and cause you anxiety.

Organise your consultation with Mr Turton: Specialist Consultation Booking Form