Due to the prevalence of breast cancer in women, which necessitates the removal of one or more breasts, breast reconstruction surgery is a common procedure. This involves the implantation of a sac filled with silicone gel or saline. Breast augmentation is also practiced as a purely cosmetic procedure by women who wish to enlarge their breasts.
The use of silicone in this procedure has become controversial. Silicone is a polymer, that is, a silicon compound united with organic compounds. While silicone rubbers have been used for many years, in 1992 the FDA asked that the use of silicone for breast implants in cosmetic surgery be suspended in order to have time to study the complaints against silicone. There have been reports of autoimmune reactions caused by implanted silicone. Some cases showed permanent sores and lumps arising after the implant. There was also a fear expressed by researchers of the possibility that silicone might migrate to the lungs, causing death. Although subsequent testing cast doubt on the actual negative side effects of silicone implants, they have been replaced in most cases by implants using saline solution.
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