Safety of breast implants under review in South Korea after silicone gel found in breast milk

SEOUL (KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - South Korea said on Friday (Jan 13) that it will re-investigate the safety of breast implant products, after a woman who received breast augmentation claimed to have found in her breast milk what appears to be silicone gel.

According to the Ministry of Food and Drug safety, the woman who received breast enlargement surgery in 2011 had the implant removed after she found that her breastmilk contained a thick, transparent gel-like substance.

She had by then breastfed her infant baby for nearly three months. Her son went through a medical examination and no health problems were found.

The doctor who removed the implant found that the silicone gel bag had ruptured.

"We will specifically investigate the case to figure out if implant materials such as silicone fillers are safe to use," said the ministry's researcher Yim Cheon Il.

The ministry said it was the first reported case in South Korea of a rupture of breast implants leading to the infusion of silicone in a mother's breastmilk.

"If there is a serious safety problem found in breast implants, the ministry will take due measures and may cancel the authorisation of certain implant products," the researcher  added.

According to the ministry's data, a total of 3,600 consumer complaints were reported on the side effects of breast augmentation over the past four years, of which 66 per cent were about the rupture of breast implants.

It is commonly believed among doctors and implant product manufacturers that breast augmentation does not affect breastmilk if the breast prostheses are correctly installed.

Breast augmentation is a surgical procedure to increase the size, shape or fullness of a woman's breasts. The surgeon places silicone, saline or alternative breast implants under the chest muscles or breast tissue.

Doctors mostly recommend using silicone implants since they have a natural form, similar to natural breasts.

But since breast implants do not last permanently, they may affect the milk produced for breastfeeding, some doctors say.

"Silicone-filled implants may rupture without symptoms," said Dr Koo Bon Sang, who runs a plastic surgery clinic in Apgujeong.

"(Those who received surgery should know that) all breast implants eventually rupture for sure. The possibility of the rupture of silicone-filled implants dramatically rises each year, from 0.5 per cent two years after the surgery to 15 per cent 10 years after the surgery, increasing the risk of disturbing mother's mammary glands and milk ducts," Dr Koo added.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration recommends performing MRI screenings of implants after three years to detect any silent rupture.

The related breast implant manufacturing company declined to reveal the list of components in its silicone breast implant, citing commercial confidentiality.

But industry insiders said that heavy metal content, such as platinum, nickel and chromium, are often included in the manufacture of breast implants, which may pose a threat to the safety of implant materials and its effects on breastmilk.

The ministry said the amount of such components is usually too small to cause health problems, but vowed to re-check the safety of such content.