DENVER (CBS4)– In the U.S., more than 300,000 women a year choose to get breast implants. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation has been the top cosmetic surgery since 2006.
But in 2018, more than 29,000 women opted to have their implants removed. Many believe the silicone sacks were making them sick.
The safety of breast implants is still being debated after nearly 30 years.
“I wanted to be perfect,” said Shanel Rivers.
Shanel was a beauty queen, Miss Colorado United States 2016. She had a perfect face and perfect hair, but Shanel wanted her idea of the perfect body.
“I wanted boobs to feel like, to feel like a woman,” Shanel told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
In May 2017, Shanel happily got silicone breast implants.
“Loved ‘em, loved my results,” she said.
But in six months, she started feeling sick and it got much worse.
“I literally felt I was dying every day,” said the 29-year-old.
She had shortness of breath, inflammation, brain fog, pain … a list of symptoms doctors couldn’t explain.
Through social media, Shanel discovered other women called their sickness BII, “Breast Implant Illness”.
She joined a Facebook group of more than 108,000 women with BII.
“I was overwhelmed,” she said.
In November 2019, Shanel had her implants removed. She noticed a change just four weeks later.
“All my symptoms were, like, gone,” she said.
Go back 28 years and Cari Day Dicke has a similar story.
“I was very sick,” said Cari.
There was no name for it in 1992, but women with silicone breast implants were also comparing symptoms that seemed like autoimmune disease.
“We had to do a lot of telephoning and meeting and things like that,” explained Cari.
Cari got her implants following breast cancer. Twenty-eight years ago, reporter Kathy Walsh and a photographer were in the operating room when Cari had them removed. One came out intact, the other had ruptured and was leaking silicone into her body.
“Glad you had the implants taken out?” asked Kathy recently.
“Oh my gosh, yes, it saved my life,” Cari answered.
Dr. Linda Huang was the plastic surgeon who removed Cari’s implants in 1992. Now, 28 years later, her practice has changed.
“Now, I’m taking out many more implants than I’m putting in, for sure,” she said. “I really believe in Breast Implant Illness.”
But Dr. Huang doesn’t believe it affects everyone.
“Many people are thrilled with their implants. They are some of my happiest patients,” she said.
But Cari sees a decades-old problem- ignored.
“They dismiss women,” she said. “If you still have women getting sick, there’s something wrong.”
“It’s not a coincidence at this point,” said Shanel.
In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration recommended that manufacturers print warnings on implant packaging and that surgeons spell out the risks for patients considering surgery.
“I would never have gotten them if I had known the risk,” said Shanel.