Building a Better Implant

Since the early 1970s, surgical implants have been used for breast augmentation. That same technology has also been used for reconstruction in breast cancer survivors. Clearly, implants offered a strong alternative to wearing external prostheses, and were shown in numerous studies to improve quality of life for cancer survivors. Over the years, the technology used in these implants has undergone improvement.

Limited Options

Historically, implants were available in very limited shapes and sizes and were geared primarily for breast augmentation rather than reconstruction. For example, the majority of implants were round, as opposed to a natural teardrop breast shape. In addition, there were few options to match a patient’s particular body size or shape. As a result, outcomes in implant reconstruction — particularly one-sided or unilateral reconstruction — were often less than satisfactory. Patients complained of round rather than breast-shaped reconstruction and, in some cases, underwent additional surgery for revision. Unfortunately, due to the existing limitations in implant technology, the reconstructive goal in many cases was simply to achieve reasonable symmetry in clothes.

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The Advent of Anatomically Shaped Implants

Over the past seven years, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) has led the largest study to date aimed at optimizing the use of new shapes and sizes of implants for reconstruction. Working closely with three breast implant manufacturers, MSK has performed more than 3,000 reconstructions using anatomic or teardrop-shaped implants. This work has led to FDA approval of these devices and has been presented nationally and internationally.

Anatomic or tear-drop breast implants (right) and round breast implants (left)

Study findings have identified suitable candidates for reconstruction using these specialized implants and indicate significantly improved aesthetic outcomes — particularly in unilateral breast reconstruction, in which the reconstructed breast needs to match the native breast as closely as possible.

MSK is proud to be a leader in the advent and optimization of new implant technology that offers improved outcomes for breast cancer survivors.

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