Background: Silicone breast implants have been linked to a variety of illnesses, the most controversial of which are connective-tissue diseases and symptoms. To study this relation, we analyzed data from 14 years of follow-up of the Nurses' Health Study cohort.
Methods: Women who were free from connective-tissue disease in June 1976 were followed through May 31, 1990, before there was widespread media coverage of the possible association of breast implants and connective-tissue diseases. Information was collected through biennial and supplementary mailed questionnaires and blinded reviews of medical records with the use of standardized criteria. Relative risk, the measure of association, was defined as the incidence rate of connective-tissue disease among women with breast implants divided by the corresponding incidence rate among women without breast implants.
Results: Among 87,501 women who were eligible for follow-up, 516 were confirmed as having definite connective-tissue diseases and 1183 as having breast implants (of which 876 were silicone-gel-filled, 170 saline-filled, 67 double-lumen, 14 polyurethane-coated, and 56 of unknown type). The mean (+/- SD) period of follow-up after surgery was 9.9 +/- 6.4 years (range, 1 month to 40.5 years). Three of the patients with definite connective-tissue disease--all had rheumatoid arthritis--had implants (one silicone-gel-filled, one saline-filled, and one double-lumen). The age-adjusted relative risk of a definite connective-tissue disease among women with any type of implant was 0.6 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 2.0), as compared with women without implants. For women with silicon-gel-filled implants, the comparable relative risk was 0.3 (95 percent confidence interval, 0 to 1.9). The relative risk of self-reported signs or symptoms of connective-tissue disease for women with implants was 1.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.9 to 2.4); the risk of having any 1 of 41 signs, symptoms, or laboratory features of connective-tissue disease was 0.7 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.3 to 1.6).
Conclusions: In a large cohort study, we did not find an association between silicone breast implants and connective-tissue diseases, defined according to a variety of standardized criteria, or signs and symptoms of these diseases.