Background and design: Silica, Silastic, and silicone (any organic compound in which silicon replaces carbon) have been associated with a number of connective-tissue diseases, most commonly systemic sclerosis (scleroderma). Silicone is known to leak from breast implants and spread to surrounding tissues, including lymph nodes, but silicone's role in the origin and pathogenesis of the inflammation and fibrosis related to such conditions remains controversial. Synovial tissue, alveolar macrophages, and skin, each from three different patients with silicone-gel implants, plus the breast implant capsules from each of the three patients, were examined by light microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and electron probe microanalysis for the presence of silicon-containing material.
Results: Silicon was identified within the fibrous breast capsule of each case, associated with a chronic inflammatory cell infiltrate. Silicon was also identified within tissues involved by chronic inflammation and fibrosis, namely, synovium, skin, and alveolar macrophages, in association with clinical, serologic, and histologic evidence of connective tissue disease. All three patients improved after removal of the silicone-gel breast implants.
Conclusions: The presence of silicon-containing material within sites of connective-tissue disease supports a role for silicon in the origin or pathogenesis of such conditions in patients with silicone-gel breast implants. All patients with connective-tissue disease should be questioned about exposure to various forms of silicon. In those patients with known exposure, tissue specimens should be examined carefully for silicon-containing material and, if found, the source should be removed.