Breast Implants Linked to Higher Suicide Rate

Surprising Source of Chronic Pain Discovered

Boosting breast size with plastic surgery has been linked to a significantly higher suicide rate among women in a new 15-year study.

While overall risk of health problems did not change, the suicide rate was much higher for women with breast implants compared with the general population, scientists announced today.

Jacques Brisson and Louis Latulippe of Laval University in Quebec, Canada, and their colleagues from the Canadian Public Health Agency and Cancer Care Ontario collected information on 24,600 women who had received breast implants for cosmetic purposes. The women, who underwent the implant surgery at an average age of 32, completed regular follow-up visits from 1974 to 1989—the study's duration. 

The researchers also monitored a control group of women during the study.

Better physical health

A total of 480 women with breast implants died during this period. Compared with the control group, the scientists calculated the mortality rate was 26 percent lower in the women with breast implants. The discrepancy can be accounted for, they said, by the fewer deaths from cancer, notably breast cancer, and heart disease for the women with breast implants.

Rather than a consequence of the breast augmentations, Brisson suggested the lower mortality could be attributed to socio-economic status.

"First, a woman must be in relatively good health to undergo breast implant surgery," Bisson said. "Also, women who receive breast implants tend to be of higher-than-average socioeconomic status. Thus, women who undergo breast augmentation surgery are more likely to be in better health than the general population."

Poor mental health

Physically healthy, yes, but what about their mental health?

The researchers discovered the suicide rate is 73 percent higher in participants with breast implants relative to the control group. The connection between breast implants and suicide was not tested and no direct link was found between the two.

However, Bisson said previous studies have characterized women who receive breast implants by a low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and more frequent mental illnesses such as depression.

The research team also analyzed a group of 16,000 women who had undergone plastic surgery procedures other than breast augmentation. They found similar results, with a lower mortality rate and a higher suicide rate than the general population.

The findings are published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Jury's out

Brisson said the debate over the safety of breast implants is far from being settled.

"Our study shows that there is no relation between breast implants and mortality rate," he said. "But our study does not assess the impact of breast implants on other aspects of women's health.” For instance, degradation of the implants could lead to leakage of the saline or silicone contents, although the Food and Drug Administration stated there is insufficient evidence of the harmful effects of leakage for approved implant materials.

"Women must take those facts into consideration when determining whether or not they want to receive breast implants," Brisson said.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.