Abstract

There is widespread concern about possible long-term health effects among women who have received breast implants for cosmetic purposes; few studies have reported on the mortality patterns of such women. The authors examined cause-specific mortality in a cohort of 24,558 women with breast implants and 15,893 women who underwent other plastic surgery procedures in Ontario and Quebec, Canada, between 1974 and 1989. Deaths through 1997 were identified through linkage to the national mortality database. The authors compared the mortality of women who received implants with that of the general population by using standardized mortality ratios; Poisson regression was used to perform internal cohort comparisons. Overall mortality was lower among women who received breast implants relative to the general population (standardized mortality ratio = 0.74, 95% confidence interval: 0.68, 0.81). In contrast, higher suicide rates were observed in both the implant (standardized mortality ratio = 1.73, 95% confidence interval: 1.31, 2.24) and other plastic surgery (standardized mortality ratio = 1.55, 95% confidence interval: 1.07, 2.18) patients. No differences in mortality were found between the implant and other surgeries group for any of the 20 causes of death examined. Findings suggest that breast implants do not directly increase mortality in women. Further work is needed to evaluate risk factors for suicide among women who undergo elective cosmetic surgery.

The potential for silicone-gel-filled breast implants to adversely affect the health of women continues to be widely debated and a source of controversy. In 1992, the US Food and Drug Administration placed restrictions on the availability of silicone-gel-filled implants; these implants were made available to women undergoing breast reconstruction or for other medical purposes. At that time, there were no reliable estimates of the incidence or prevalence of complications among women who had received breast implants (1). Manufacturers of silicone-gel-filled implants were asked to demonstrate that these devices were both safe and effective. Since then, several epidemiologic studies have reported on the adverse health effects associated with both saline and silicone-gel-filled breast implants. Health outcomes most widely studied among women who received breast implants for cosmetic purposes have included breast cancer, hematopoietic disorders, and connective tissue disorders (27). In contrast, relatively little attention has been given to the impact that psychological risk factors before and after surgery may have on the long-term health of these women. The observation by Borah et al. (8) that psychological complications were more prevalent than postoperative infections or hematomas among individuals who underwent cosmetic plastic surgery procedures underscores the importance of investigating these health effects.

In recent years, four cohort studies have reported on the mortality experience of women who received breast implants for augmentation purposes (912). All four of these studies reported increased suicide rates among women receiving these implants when compared with rates in the general population. Despite the consistency of these findings, the studies have been severely limited by small sample sizes. In particular, across the four studies, there were a combined 58 deaths from suicide compared with an expected number of 25.2 (standardized mortality ratio (SMR) = 2.3, 95 percent confidence interval (CI): 1.7, 3.0) (13). These small numbers make it difficult to characterize suicide risk by age group and time since surgery was performed. While some consistency has been noted for suicide outcomes in these studies, findings for other causes of deaths across these cohorts have been equivocal. When compared with overall mortality patterns for the general population, lower rates in two of the studies (9, 12) and higher rates in the other two (10, 11) were found for women who had received implants.

To provide further insights into the mortality experience of women who receive breast implants, herein we report on a longitudinal study of 24,558 women who received breast implants in Ontario and Quebec, Canada. To our knowledge, this is the largest breast implant cohort assembled to date, with some women followed for up to 24 years. Particular emphasis was placed on comparing the suicide and all-cause mortality rates for those who received breast implants with those for the general population and with those for a comparison group of women who underwent other plastic surgery procedures.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study population

The study population consisted of women, 18 years of age or older, who were residents of Ontario or Quebec and who underwent bilateral cosmetic augmentation mammaplasty in their province of residence between January 1, 1974, and December 31, 1989. A control cohort of women who received other common elective cosmetic surgeries was also assembled. These women received other cosmetic procedures, not billable to the publicly funded health insurance plans of Ontario or Quebec, that included the following: chemical peel or dermabrasion, coronal brow lift (eyebrow and forehead lift), otoplasty (ear surgery), rhinoplasty (nose surgery), rhytidectomy (face-lift), or blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery). Controls were frequency matched to the breast implant patients according to a ratio of 1:2 by province of residence, year of entry into the cohort, and plastic surgeon.

In Ontario, eligible subjects were identified through plastic surgeons who performed augmentation mammaplasty in the province between 1974 and 1989. Pilot studies revealed that the surgeons who performed augmentation mammaplasty also performed most of the controls' procedures, thus allowing controls to be selected from the same clinics. Over the study period, it was estimated that 133 plastic surgeons ever performed bilateral augmentation mammaplasty; nearly three quarters of these procedures were performed by 24 plastic surgeons.

In Quebec, breast implant recipients and controls were identified from MED-ECHO files and from records of plastic surgeons in private plastic surgery clinics for the period between January 1, 1974, and December 31, 1989. The MED-ECHO database is a computerized system that describes all hospital separations that occur in Quebec. Inpatient and day surgeries performed in public hospitals are reported to MED-ECHO. The implant and control cohorts were recruited from among women operated on by approximately 100 surgeons who have practiced in Quebec since 1974.

Excluded from both the implant and control cohorts were women who had undergone any previous major breast surgery, including reduction mammaplasty, breast lift, and breast cancer surgery. We also excluded women who had received other types of silicone or artificial implants, or had a male genotype, or had a history of cancer (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer) of any site before breast implant surgery. No data were collected on other cosmetic procedures performed subsequent to the initial breast implant or on cosmetic procedures. However, limited data were collected on revision surgeries, where applicable, related to the breast implant.

In total, the cohort consisted of 40,451 women; 24,558 had received breast implants (7,153 women from Ontario and 17,405 from Quebec). The plastic surgery control group consisted of 15,893 women (4,418 from Ontario and 11,475 from Quebec).

Ethics approval for the study was granted by the University of Toronto's Office on Research Studies and the ethics committees of Saint-Sacrement Hospital and Laval University.

Ascertainment of vital status

The mortality experience of the cohort was determined by linking personal identifying information to the Canadian Vital Statistics Database. This database, maintained by Statistics Canada, contains death registrations for all Canadian residents who died beginning in 1950. Records were linked by using a probabilistic procedure that compared common fields in the two files, assigned weights to the resulting links, and calculated a total weight. Links with a sufficiently high weight were accepted as a match, and manual resolution was applied to resolve any questionable links. Date of death and underlying cause of death, based on the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (14), were extracted from the database.

Manual resolution involved inspecting the death certificates for the questionable links. Doing so enabled us to review data not contained in the Canadian Vital Statistics Database, thereby providing additional information so we could better determine whether the cohort member had indeed died. This extra information available on only the death certificate included type of work and industry of employment. In addition, although the database contained only the first and second given names of a cohort member, death certificates may provide more detailed information.

It is possible that some deaths may have been missed because women died outside the country. For out-of-country deaths, only those that occur in the United States are reported, and Canada currently receives abstracted death data for its residents from approximately 20 states (15). The results of previous record linkage mortality studies suggest that the number of deaths that would be missed would be quite small given the personal identifying information available for the cohort (16, 17). Therefore, underascertainment of observed cases used to derive the standardized mortality ratio should be minimal. For internal cohort comparisons, we know of no reason why mortality ascertainment would be different between women who received breast implants and those who had other cosmetic surgeries; therefore, incomplete ascertainment of deaths was not expected to bias our estimates of relative risk.

Statistical analysis

For each woman, person-years of follow-up were calculated from 1 year after the date of surgery until the earliest of date of death or December 31, 1997. The first year of follow-up was excluded from analysis to reduce the influence that preexisting disease at the time of surgery may have had on our comparisons.

The numbers of person-years and deaths were tabulated across strata defined by implant or surgical control group, province of residence at the time of implant (Quebec or Ontario), attained age (18–24, 25–29, 30–34, …, 75–79, ≥80 years), follow-up interval (1974–1977, 1978–1981, …, 1994–1997), period of surgery (1974–1979, 1980–1984, 1985–1989), age at surgery (18–<30, 30–<40, ≥40 years), and time since surgery (1–<5, 5–<10, ≥10 years). Attained age, follow-up interval, and time since surgery were time-dependent variables because women would contribute person-years to different categories within these variables as they were followed over time. In contrast, women would contribute person-years to only one level of the classification variables of period of surgery and age at surgery. The DATAB module in the Epicure (18) software program was used to tabulate person-years of follow-up.

We compared cause-specific mortality rates for both the breast implant patients and the other cosmetic surgeries group with those for the general population. Rates for the provinces of Ontario and Quebec were obtained from provincial vital registry data (unpublished mortality tabulations, Surveillance Division, Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, 2005). The expected numbers of deaths in the cohort were estimated by multiplying the tabulated person-years of follow-up by the corresponding cause-specific female mortality rates observed in the general population according to province, age (by 5-year age intervals), and follow-up interval (1974–1977, 1978–1981, 1982–1985, 1986–1989, 1990–1993, and 1994–1997). Mortality risk was evaluated by calculating the standardized mortality ratio, which is the ratio of the observed to the expected number of deaths. The 95 percent confidence intervals were calculated by assuming that the observed number of deaths followed a Poisson distribution; we used a formula detailed elsewhere (19). All the p values reported herein are two sided.

Mortality comparisons between women who received breast implants and the other plastic surgery patients were performed by using Poisson regression. We included in these multivariable models terms for attained age and province of residence. Doing so allowed the resultant relative risks to be adjusted for differences in age, and province of residence, that existed between the implant and other plastic surgery group.

RESULTS

The study cohort consisted of 24,558 women who received breast implants and 15,893 plastic surgery patients (table 1). For the surgical controls, the corresponding figure was 240,874. On average, women who received other cosmetic procedures were slightly older than women who had breast implants. In particular, the mean ages at surgery for Ontario women who received breast implants and those who received other cosmetic surgeries were 31.8 and 33.8 years, respectively. The corresponding figures for Quebec women in the cohort were 32.4 and 33.4 years of age. A larger portion of the Quebec component of the cohort, relative to Ontario cohort members, underwent breast augmentation during the early part of the study period (1974–1979); consequently, mean follow-up was longer among Quebec women (15.5 years vs. 13.9 years). Among the 24,558 women who received breast implants, 18 percent of the implants contained saline and 66 percent were silicone gel filled, while the implant type could not be determined for 16 percent.

TABLE 1.

Characteristics of women who received breast implants, Ontario and Quebec, Canada, 1974–1997


Characteristic
 

Breast implant patients
 
     
Other plastic surgery patients
 
     
 Ontario
 
 Quebec
 
 Total
 
 Ontario
 
 Quebec
 
 Total
 
 
 No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
Age at surgery (years)             
    18–<30 3,010 42.1 6,616 38.0 9,626 39.2 1,777 40.2 4,768 41.6 6,545 41.2 
    30–<40 3,106 43.4 7,957 45.7 11,063 45.0 1,377 31.2 2,808 24.5 4,185 26.3 
    ≥40 1,037 14.5 2,832 16.3 3,869 15.8 1,264 28.6 2,899 25.3 4,163 26.2 
Period of surgery             
    1974–1979 1,498 20.9 5,844 33.6 7,342 29.9 699 15.8 3,902 34.0 4,601 29.0 
    1980–1984 2,224 31.1 5,926 34.1 8,150 33.2 1,287 29.1 4,508 39.3 5,795 36.5 
    1985–1989 3,431 48.0 5,635 32.4 9,066 36.9 2,432 55.1 3,065 26.7 5,497 34.6 
Total no. of subjects 7,153 100.0 17,405 100.0 24,558 100.0 4,418 100.0 11,475 100.0 15,893 100.0 
No. of deaths
 
106
 

 
403
 

 
509
 

 
75
 

 
332
 

 
407
 

 

Characteristic
 

Breast implant patients
 
     
Other plastic surgery patients
 
     
 Ontario
 
 Quebec
 
 Total
 
 Ontario
 
 Quebec
 
 Total
 
 
 No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
No.
 
%
 
Age at surgery (years)             
    18–<30 3,010 42.1 6,616 38.0 9,626 39.2 1,777 40.2 4,768 41.6 6,545 41.2 
    30–<40 3,106 43.4 7,957 45.7 11,063 45.0 1,377 31.2 2,808 24.5 4,185 26.3 
    ≥40 1,037 14.5 2,832 16.3 3,869 15.8 1,264 28.6 2,899 25.3 4,163 26.2 
Period of surgery             
    1974–1979 1,498 20.9 5,844 33.6 7,342 29.9 699 15.8 3,902 34.0 4,601 29.0 
    1980–1984 2,224 31.1 5,926 34.1 8,150 33.2 1,287 29.1 4,508 39.3 5,795 36.5 
    1985–1989 3,431 48.0 5,635 32.4 9,066 36.9 2,432 55.1 3,065 26.7 5,497 34.6 
Total no. of subjects 7,153 100.0 17,405 100.0 24,558 100.0 4,418 100.0 11,475 100.0 15,893 100.0 
No. of deaths
 
106
 

 
403
 

 
509
 

 
75
 

 
332
 

 
407
 

 

After we excluded the first year of follow-up, 480 deaths were observed among women who received breast implants (table 2). A lower than expected number of deaths occurred among implant patients when compared with the general population (SMR = 0.74, 95 percent CI: 0.68, 0.81). Similarly, women who received breast implants had lower all-cancer (SMR = 0.76, 95 percent CI: 0.66, 0.86), coronary heart disease (SMR = 0.50, 95 percent CI: 0.35, 0.69), and breast cancer (SMR = 0.45, 95 percent CI: 0.32, 0.62) mortality rates. Elevated mortality rates for suicides were observed among women who received breast implants (SMR = 1.73, 95 percent CI: 1.31, 2.24).

TABLE 2.

Observed and expected* numbers of deaths, standardized mortality ratios, and 95% confidence intervals for women who received cosmetic breast implants, Ontario and Quebec, Canada, 1974–1997


Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

Observed
 

Expected
 

SMR
 

95% CI
 
All causes  480 648.8 0.74 0.68, 0.81 
Infectious diseases 1–139 8.4 0.96 0.41, 1.88 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 18.3 0.22 0.06, 0.56 
Mental disorders 290–319 4.5 0.89 0.24, 2.27 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 18.2 0.27 0.09, 0.64 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 75 137.6 0.55 0.43, 0.68 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 70.7 0.50 0.35, 0.69 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 29 32.7 0.89 0.59, 1.28 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 16 26.7 0.60 0.34, 0.97 
Digestive diseases 520–579 12 22.9 0.52 0.27, 0.91 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 229 303.1 0.76 0.66, 0.86 
    Breast 174 37 82.6 0.45 0.32, 0.62 
    Brain 191 10.5 0.57 0.21, 1.25 
    Genital 179–184 24 33.1 0.72 0.46, 1.08 
    Colorectal 153–154 25 23.0 1.09 0.70, 1.61 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 70 62.3 1.12 0.88, 1.42 
Injuries 800–999 113 82.4 1.37 1.13, 1.65 
    Suicide 950–959 58 33.5 1.73 1.31, 2.24 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 55 48.9 1.13 0.85, 1.47 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
14
 
26.7
 
0.52
 
0.29, 0.88
 

Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

Observed
 

Expected
 

SMR
 

95% CI
 
All causes  480 648.8 0.74 0.68, 0.81 
Infectious diseases 1–139 8.4 0.96 0.41, 1.88 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 18.3 0.22 0.06, 0.56 
Mental disorders 290–319 4.5 0.89 0.24, 2.27 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 18.2 0.27 0.09, 0.64 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 75 137.6 0.55 0.43, 0.68 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 70.7 0.50 0.35, 0.69 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 29 32.7 0.89 0.59, 1.28 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 16 26.7 0.60 0.34, 0.97 
Digestive diseases 520–579 12 22.9 0.52 0.27, 0.91 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 229 303.1 0.76 0.66, 0.86 
    Breast 174 37 82.6 0.45 0.32, 0.62 
    Brain 191 10.5 0.57 0.21, 1.25 
    Genital 179–184 24 33.1 0.72 0.46, 1.08 
    Colorectal 153–154 25 23.0 1.09 0.70, 1.61 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 70 62.3 1.12 0.88, 1.42 
Injuries 800–999 113 82.4 1.37 1.13, 1.65 
    Suicide 950–959 58 33.5 1.73 1.31, 2.24 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 55 48.9 1.13 0.85, 1.47 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
14
 
26.7
 
0.52
 
0.29, 0.88
 
*

Person-years of follow-up and deaths were accrued beginning 1 year after surgery; expected numbers of deaths were calculated by multiplying age, period of surgery, and cause-specific female mortality rates for Ontario and Quebec by the corresponding number of person-years of follow-up observed in the cohort.

ICD-9, International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision; SMR, standardized mortality ratio; CI, confidence interval.

Mortality comparisons between other cosmetic surgery patients and the general population are presented in table 3. Overall, these patients were found to have lower mortality rates (SMR = 0.68, 95 percent CI: 0.61, 0.75) and for nearly all cause-specific types of deaths. In contrast, other plastic surgery patients experienced higher suicide rates than the general population (SMR = 1.55, 95 percent CI: 1.07, 2.18).

TABLE 3.

Observed and expected* numbers of deaths, standardized mortality ratios, and 95% confidence intervals for plastic surgery patients, Ontario and Quebec, Canada, 1974–1997


Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

Observed
 

Expected
 

SMR
 

95% CI
 
All causes  383 564.7 0.68 0.61, 0.75 
Infectious diseases 1–139 6.3 0.63 0.17, 1.62 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 17.6 0.28 0.09, 0.66 
Mental disorders 290–319 4.6 0.87 0.23, 2.22 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 15.5 0.26 0.07, 0.66 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 76 140.5 0.54 0.43, 0.68 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 76.8 0.46 0.32, 0.63 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 20 30.0 0.67 0.41, 1.03 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 15 27.0 0.55 0.31, 0.92 
Digestive diseases 520–579 20.6 0.34 0.14, 0.70 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 194 254.8 0.76 0.66, 0.88 
    Breast 174 40 64.0 0.62 0.45, 0.85 
    Brain 191 10 8.3 1.21 0.58, 2.22 
    Genital 179–184 16 27.1 0.59 0.34, 0.96 
    Colorectal 153–154 14 21.2 0.66 0.36, 1.11 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 60 53.8 1.12 0.85, 1.44 
Injuries 800–999 63 55.4 1.14 0.87, 1.46 
    Suicide 950–959 33 21.2 1.55 1.07, 2.18 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 30 34.1 0.88 0.59, 1.26 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
11
 
22.4
 
0.49
 
0.24, 0.88
 

Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

Observed
 

Expected
 

SMR
 

95% CI
 
All causes  383 564.7 0.68 0.61, 0.75 
Infectious diseases 1–139 6.3 0.63 0.17, 1.62 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 17.6 0.28 0.09, 0.66 
Mental disorders 290–319 4.6 0.87 0.23, 2.22 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 15.5 0.26 0.07, 0.66 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 76 140.5 0.54 0.43, 0.68 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 76.8 0.46 0.32, 0.63 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 20 30.0 0.67 0.41, 1.03 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 15 27.0 0.55 0.31, 0.92 
Digestive diseases 520–579 20.6 0.34 0.14, 0.70 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 194 254.8 0.76 0.66, 0.88 
    Breast 174 40 64.0 0.62 0.45, 0.85 
    Brain 191 10 8.3 1.21 0.58, 2.22 
    Genital 179–184 16 27.1 0.59 0.34, 0.96 
    Colorectal 153–154 14 21.2 0.66 0.36, 1.11 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 60 53.8 1.12 0.85, 1.44 
Injuries 800–999 63 55.4 1.14 0.87, 1.46 
    Suicide 950–959 33 21.2 1.55 1.07, 2.18 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 30 34.1 0.88 0.59, 1.26 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
11
 
22.4
 
0.49
 
0.24, 0.88
 
*

Person-years of follow-up and deaths were accrued beginning 1 year after surgery; expected numbers of deaths were calculated by multiplying age, period of surgery, and cause-specific female mortality rates for Ontario and Quebec by the corresponding number of person-years of follow-up observed in the cohort.

ICD-9, International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision; SMR, standardized mortality ratio; CI, confidence interval.

For the 20 different causes of death examined, we found no statistically significant differences in mortality rates between women who received breast implants and those undergoing other cosmetic surgeries (table 4). These comparisons were adjusted for the age and province of residence of the cohort members.

TABLE 4.

Comparisons of the mortality experiences* of women who received breast implants for cosmetic purposes with those of other plastic surgery patients, Ontario and Quebec, Canada, 1974–1997


Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

No. of deaths
 
 
RR
 

95% CI
 
  Breast implant patients (345,116 PYs)
 
Other plastic surgery patients (225,032 PYs)
 
  
All causes  480 383 1.02 0.89, 1.17 
Infectious diseases 1–139 1.46 0.43, 4.91 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 0.72 0.19, 2.73 
Mental disorders 290–319 1.09 0.27, 4.44 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 1.14 0.30, 4.37 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 75 76 0.97 0.70, 1.34 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 35 1.08 0.67, 1.74 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 29 20 1.21 0.68, 2.17 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 16 15 1.14 0.56, 2.34 
Digestive diseases 520–579 12 1.18 0.46, 3.04 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 229 194 0.96 0.79, 1.16 
    Breast 174 37 40 0.76 0.48, 1.19 
    Brain 191 10 0.42 0.15, 1.15 
    Genital 179–184 24 16 1.10 0.58, 2.10 
    Colorectal 153–154 25 14 1.42 0.73, 2.77 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 70 60 0.94 0.66, 1.34 
Injuries 800–999 113 63 1.18 0.86, 1.61 
    Suicide 950–959 58 33 1.10 0.72, 1.69 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 55 30 1.26 0.81, 1.98 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
14
 
11
 
1.10
 
0.49, 2.46
 

Cause of death
 

ICD-9 codes
 

No. of deaths
 
 
RR
 

95% CI
 
  Breast implant patients (345,116 PYs)
 
Other plastic surgery patients (225,032 PYs)
 
  
All causes  480 383 1.02 0.89, 1.17 
Infectious diseases 1–139 1.46 0.43, 4.91 
Endocrine diseases 240–279 0.72 0.19, 2.73 
Mental disorders 290–319 1.09 0.27, 4.44 
Nervous system diseases 320–389 1.14 0.30, 4.37 
Circulatory diseases 390–459 75 76 0.97 0.70, 1.34 
    Coronary heart 410–414, 429.2 35 35 1.08 0.67, 1.74 
    Cerebrovascular 430–438 29 20 1.21 0.68, 2.17 
Respiratory diseases 460–519 16 15 1.14 0.56, 2.34 
Digestive diseases 520–579 12 1.18 0.46, 3.04 
Cancer 140–208 (excluding 173) 229 194 0.96 0.79, 1.16 
    Breast 174 37 40 0.76 0.48, 1.19 
    Brain 191 10 0.42 0.15, 1.15 
    Genital 179–184 24 16 1.10 0.58, 2.10 
    Colorectal 153–154 25 14 1.42 0.73, 2.77 
    Bronchus and lung 162.2–5, .8, .9 70 60 0.94 0.66, 1.34 
Injuries 800–999 113 63 1.18 0.86, 1.61 
    Suicide 950–959 58 33 1.10 0.72, 1.69 
    Other 800–949, 960–999 55 30 1.26 0.81, 1.98 
Other deaths
 
Those not included above
 
14
 
11
 
1.10
 
0.49, 2.46
 
*

Person-years of follow-up (PYs) and deaths were accrued beginning 1 year after surgery.

ICD-9, International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision; CI, confidence interval.

The relative risk (RR) was adjusted for age and province of residence; the referent group consisted of other plastic surgery patients.

For suicides, we undertook more detailed comparisons between the general population and women who received breast implants and those undergoing other cosmetic surgeries. Specifically, we examined variations in the standardized mortality ratio according to time since surgery, age at surgery, follow-up interval, and period of surgery; the findings are presented in table 5. Among women who received breast implants, the standardized mortality ratios for suicides were higher for those who underwent the procedure at a later age (≥40 years) and during the calendar period between 1974 and 1979. Conversely, among the other plastic surgery patients, the standardized mortality ratio was higher for women who underwent the procedures at an earlier age. There was no trend in the standardized mortality ratio according to “time since surgery” in either the breast implant or other cosmetic surgeries group.

TABLE 5.

Standardized mortality ratios for suicide* among breast implant patients and other plastic surgery patients relative to the general female population, by period of surgery, age at surgery, time since surgery, and follow-up interval, Ontario and Quebec, Canada, 1974–1997


 

Breast implant patients
 
  
Other plastic surgery patients
 
  
All patients combined
 
  

 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
Period of surgery          
    1974–1979 24 1.69 1.08, 2.52 13 1.50 0.80, 2.56 37 1.62 1.14, 2.23 
    1980–1984 21 1.79 1.11, 2.74 16 1.98 1.13, 3.22 37 1.87 1.32, 2.58 
    1985–1989 13 1.71 0.91, 2.93 0.90 0.24, 2.29 17 1.41 0.82, 2.26 
Age at surgery (years)          
    18–<30 21 1.77 1.09, 2.70 15 1.81 1.01, 2.98 36 1.78 1.25, 2.47 
    30–<40 25 1.52 0.98, 2.25 13 1.65 0.88, 2.82 38 1.56 1.11, 2.15 
    ≥40 12 2.31 1.19, 4.04 0.99 0.32, 2.31 17 1.66 0.97, 2.66 
Time since surgery (years)          
    1–<5 15 1.84 1.03, 3.03 1.52 0.66, 3.00 23 1.71 1.09, 2.57 
    5–<10 21 1.81 1.12, 2.76 12 1.65 0.85, 2.87 33 1.75 1.20, 2.45 
    ≥10 22 1.60 1.00, 2.43 13 1.49 0.79, 2.56 35 1.56 1.09, 2.17 
Follow-up interval          
    1974–1979 4.12 0.83, 12.05 2.12 0.03, 11.78 3.33 0.90, 8.54 
    1980–1984 1.27 0.46, 2.77 2.97 1.36, 5.65 15 1.94 1.08, 3.20 
    1985–1989 18 1.94 1.15, 3.07 1.16 0.47, 2.40 25 1.64 1.06, 2.42 
    1990–1997 31 1.65 1.12, 2.34 16 1.37 0.78, 2.22 47 1.54 1.13, 2.05 
Total
 
58
 
1.78
 
1.31, 2.24
 
33
 
1.55
 
1.07, 2.18
 
91
 
1.66
 
1.34, 2.04
 

 

Breast implant patients
 
  
Other plastic surgery patients
 
  
All patients combined
 
  

 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
No. of deaths
 
SMR
 
95% CI
 
Period of surgery          
    1974–1979 24 1.69 1.08, 2.52 13 1.50 0.80, 2.56 37 1.62 1.14, 2.23 
    1980–1984 21 1.79 1.11, 2.74 16 1.98 1.13, 3.22 37 1.87 1.32, 2.58 
    1985–1989 13 1.71 0.91, 2.93 0.90 0.24, 2.29 17 1.41 0.82, 2.26 
Age at surgery (years)          
    18–<30 21 1.77 1.09, 2.70 15 1.81 1.01, 2.98 36 1.78 1.25, 2.47 
    30–<40 25 1.52 0.98, 2.25 13 1.65 0.88, 2.82 38 1.56 1.11, 2.15 
    ≥40 12 2.31 1.19, 4.04 0.99 0.32, 2.31 17 1.66 0.97, 2.66 
Time since surgery (years)          
    1–<5 15 1.84 1.03, 3.03 1.52 0.66, 3.00 23 1.71 1.09, 2.57 
    5–<10 21 1.81 1.12, 2.76 12 1.65 0.85, 2.87 33 1.75 1.20, 2.45 
    ≥10 22 1.60 1.00, 2.43 13 1.49 0.79, 2.56 35 1.56 1.09, 2.17 
Follow-up interval          
    1974–1979 4.12 0.83, 12.05 2.12 0.03, 11.78 3.33 0.90, 8.54 
    1980–1984 1.27 0.46, 2.77 2.97 1.36, 5.65 15 1.94 1.08, 3.20 
    1985–1989 18 1.94 1.15, 3.07 1.16 0.47, 2.40 25 1.64 1.06, 2.42 
    1990–1997 31 1.65 1.12, 2.34 16 1.37 0.78, 2.22 47 1.54 1.13, 2.05 
Total
 
58
 
1.78
 
1.31, 2.24
 
33
 
1.55
 
1.07, 2.18
 
91
 
1.66
 
1.34, 2.04
 
*

Person-years of follow-up and deaths were accrued beginning 1 year after surgery.

SMR, standardized mortality ratio; CI, confidence interval.

DISCUSSION

Overall, women who received breast implants for cosmetic purposes had lower mortality rates than the general population. A lower than expected number of deaths from cancer and circulatory diseases accounted for most of this reduction. Self-selection is a likely explanation for lower mortality rates because women who choose to undergo an invasive cosmetic procedure are likely to be, on average, in better health than those in the general population. This self-selection phenomenon is similar to the healthy-worker effect (20), in which mortality rates are lower among individuals in an occupational cohort relative to the general population. Women who receive breast implants are also recognized to differ from other women with respect to several factors that may be associated with mortality. In particular, they are frequently of higher socioeconomic status (21), a recognized correlate of improved health status. Lifestyle characteristics of women who receive breast implants, that are risk factors for several diseases, have also been shown to differ from those of women in the general population. To control for these differences, selection of other women who have undergone other cosmetic procedures as a control group has been recommended (22). In our study, there were no statistically significant differences in cause-specific mortality between women who received breast implants and women undergoing other plastic surgery procedures.

An important strength of this cohort is its relatively large size. The sizes of the four previous cohort studies were only 2,166 (12), 2,761 (10), 3,521 (11), and 13,488 (9). This limited size, coupled with the relatively young age of the women enrolled in previous cohorts, provided limited statistical power to compare mortality rates with either the general population or other groups of patients.

A number of studies of breast implants were designed primarily to evaluate the long-term risk of developing breast cancer after mammaplasty (3, 5, 7). In our cohort, a reduced breast cancer mortality rate was found among women who received implants when compared with the general population. This finding is consistent with those from previous cohort studies. We also observed reduced breast cancer incidence rates among the implant population when compared with the other plastic surgery patients (relative risk = 0.64, 95 percent CI: 0.53, 0.79) (23).

Consistent with previous work (912), increased rates of suicide were observed among women who received breast implants relative to the general population. Previous research has suggested that women who receive breast implants are more likely to have undergone psychotherapy treatment and to have lower levels of self-esteem and self-confidence (24, 25). More recently, increased prevalence of mental illness, as measured by admissions to psychiatric hospitals, has been reported among women undergoing cosmetic breast implantation (10). Elevated levels of depression have been reported among women receiving breast implants, with no postoperative signs of improvement (26). Some have speculated that the implants may contribute to increased rates of suicide (27, 28). Recently, it was suggested that complications experienced by women who received breast implants could contribute to increased despair, which may increase the chances of suicide (29). However, our findings do not support this hypothesis because we found no increase in the standardized mortality ratio for suicide with increasing length of follow-up; additionally, there were no differences in suicide rates between implant patients and other plastic surgery patients. Conversely, Brinton et al. (9) found that women who received breast implants had a higher suicide rate than women who received other surgical procedures (relative risk = 4.24, 95 percent CI: 0.9, 19.2). However, their finding is tenuous given that their cohort was much smaller, and only two suicides were observed among women who received other cosmetic surgeries.

Although this study evaluated a large number of mortality outcomes among women with breast implants and those undergoing other cosmetic surgeries, these health outcomes provide limited information about these women's overall health status. In particular, complications arising from breast implantation surgery carry risks, as well as the associated risks that arise from corrective medical or surgical interventions (30). These complications can include pain, disfigurement, serious infection, capsular contraction, and implant rupture or migration of silicone gel. A review of the health-related safety of breast implants concluded that existing studies do not rule out a small, but significant increase in the risk of connective tissue disease (1). An overall evaluation of the safety of these devices needs to carefully consider these health outcomes. Given that many of the women in our cohort received breast implants at a very young age, continued follow-up of this cohort is important given that some adverse health conditions may not present until much later in life.

In conclusion, our study found that women who received breast implants had a lower mortality risk than the general population and a risk similar to that for women who received other cosmetic surgeries. This finding strongly suggests that breast implants do not directly have an adverse effect on long-term mortality. Nonetheless, further studies that collect detailed risk factor data for suicides among both implant and other cosmetic surgery patient populations are needed. Serious consideration should be given to providing consultation for patients who are considered by the plastic surgeon to be at high risk of psychiatric disorder or suicide.

This work was supported by Health Canada.

The authors are grateful for the participation of the plastic surgeons in Ontario and Quebec and for the opportunity to access provincial cancer registry data. They thank Drs. Louise Duranceau, Pierre Langlois, and Walter Peters for their expert advice and Drs. Louise Brinton and Anthony Miller for their comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. They also thank the provincial study managers, Andrée Christen from Quebec and Gemma Lee from Ontario, for their help in designing and conducting the study. Finally, the authors thank the Occupational Health and Research Division at Statistics Canada for linking the cohort to the national cancer registry and vital statistics databases and Dores Zuccarini for providing valuable background information.

Conflict of interest: none declared.

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