Capsular Contracture Treatment

What is capsular contracture?

Capsular contracture is hardening of the breast after breast implants. The breast implants themselves don’t actually harden, just the scar tissue (capsule) around the implant. There can be pain associated with capsular contracture. The implant becomes more palpable and often takes on a rounder shape. Severe disease can cause significant distortion of the breast shape.  Dr. Yates has vast experience with the treatment of capsular contracture in our Utah office.

This patient presented to Dr. Yates with severe capsular contracture. Revision surgery required 1) removal of the previous silicone implant and hard capsule, 2) change from subglandular to submuscular implant pocket 3) replacement of new silicone implant of improved shape and size.

What are the causes of capsular contracture?

There are a number of theories related to the cause of capsular contracture. Generally it is believed that either a low grade infection or excessive inflammation and scarring is to blame.  Bleeding in the implant pocket either at the time of surgery or from subsequent trauma has been shown to increase the risk of capsular contracture. There are certain individuals that may have increased risks of capsular contracture including smokers and patients with certain autoimmune disorders.

A relatively new theory implicates biofilms as the primary cause of capsular contracture. Biofilms are multi-organism bacterial colonies that surround themselves with a covering that protects them from the immune system and antibiotics. It is thought that bacteria present at the time of surgery create this biofilm around the implant. The bacteria release chemicals that protect them from the host. They do not form an acute infection in the way that we usually think of an infection. It does not become red, hot or swollen. There is no pus. It becomes a chronic, low-grade infection. The inflammation associated with this biofilm may lead to a thick, tight breast implant capsule – the hallmark of capsular contracture.

How common is capsular contracture?

According to the FDA, the rate of significant capsular contracture at 5 years is 10%. This study looked a variety of implant types, surgeons, and surgical techniques. Dr. Yates has found that his rate of capsular contracture is substantially less than this (about 1 – 3%), likely for the reasons stated below.

Do the breast implants get hard with capuslar contracture?

The implants themselves do not harden with capsular contracture. It is only the scar tissue, or capsule, around the implant that hardens.

How can I prevent capsular contracture?

Dr. Yates believes that although surgeons cannot eliminate the risk of capsular contracture, there are steps that can be taken to reduce these risks.

  • Operating room sterility is a must. A certified, in-office surgical suite has the advantage of not having sick patients and not having hospital acquired bacteria
  • Maintain implant sterility during insertion. Some surgeons use a protective barrier between the skin and the implant during placement. Bathing the implant in antibiotics and irrigating the implant pocket with antibiotics prior to placement reduces the risk of contamination.
  • Patients should be encouraged not to smoke before breast augmentation
  • Breast implants placed beneath the muscle have a lower capsular contracture rate than breast implants placed above the muscle
  • Contamination from invisible bacteria in the glands beneath the nipple make the nipple incision a higher risk for capsular contracture.  Some surgeons use “nipple shields”
  • Textured implants may have a lower risk of capsular contracture than smooth implants when placed above the muscle (not much advantage beneath the muscle)
  • Revision breast augmentation and breast reconstruction have higher risks of capsular contracture
  • Oral and intravenous antibiotics before and after breast augmentation surgery should be given
  • Massage of the implant after surgery (this is uniformly recommended by almost all plastic surgeons, including Dr. Yates). The actual value of this is likely overstated
  • Oral medications such as Vitamin E and Accolate taken after surgery. Used by Dr. Yates if there are early signs of capsular contracture but not prophylactically

How is capsular contracture treated?

For mild, early cases of capsular contracture, Vitamin E or Accolate taken orally may improve the contracture. This is rarely helpful and most patients eventually require surgical managment if the contracture is significant. Understanding the likely infectious cause of capsular contracture helps to direct treatment. The risk of capsular contracture recurrence is significantly less if the capsule (and biofilm) are removed completely and a new implant placed (even if it looks normal). Antibiotics should be given after surgery and can be irrigated into the implant pocket after the capsule has been removed.

An old treatment for capsular contracture was closed capsulotomy. The surgeon literally squeezed the implant until the capsule cracked. This is no longer recommended. Another common alternative to complete removal of the capsule (capsulectomy), is internal release of the capsule (capsulotomy). This has a much higher rate of recurrence but is a simpler procedure.

A new idea in the treatment of capsular contracture is the addition of acelular dermal matrix (ADM).  This is a sling of dermal tissue that is placed around a portion of the implant to disrupt the scar forces that contribute to capsular contracture.  The early studies would suggest that this is a very effective and exciting new option for those cases of difficult capsular contracture, decreasing the rates of recurrence to as low as 1 – 2 %.  The downside is expense.  These ADM products are quite expensive.

When is the addition of ADM for capsular contracture most useful?

Einstein was quoted as stating the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”.  For recurrent capsular contracture, the expense of the acellular dermal matrix is likely worth the potential benefit.

Do I need new implants if I develop capsular contracture?

Yes. If the capsular contracture is significant enough to require surgery, a new implant for replacement is recommended.