Use of antipolymer antibody assay in recipients of silicone breast implants

Lancet. 1997 Feb 15;349(9050):449-54. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(96)07131-0.


Background: Local complications (encapsulation, rashes, rupture, and leakage) can occur after placement of silicone gel-containing breast implants (SBI). Whether SBI exposure results in systemic manifestations in some recipients is controversial. We have carried out a blinded study to assess whether there is any difference between SBI recipients and non-exposed controls in the proportions positive for serum antibodies directed against polymeric substances.

Methods: We recruited female SBI recipients (including those without symptoms) who presented to a single rheumatology clinic. A physician global assessment was used to classify SBI recipients who did not meet criteria for specific autoimmune diseases according to the severity of local and systemic signs and symptoms. Controls were recruited from among clinic staff and their acquaintances. Results of the antipolymer antibody (APA) assay were compared with those of an assay for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and with the severity of the signs and symptoms.

Findings: Positive APA results were found in one (3%) of 34 SBI recipients with limited symptoms, two (8%) of 26 with mild symptoms, seven (44%) of 16 with moderate symptoms, and 13 (68%) of 19 with advanced symptoms. Four (17%) of 23 healthy non-SBI-exposed controls and two (10%) of 20 non-exposed women with classic autoimmune diseases were positive for APA. Thus, women with moderate or advanced symptoms were significantly more likely than those with limited or mild symptoms, or non-exposed controls to have APA (p < 0.001). The proportion with positive ANA results was higher for women with classic autoimmune diseases 14 (70%) of 20 than for any SBI-exposed subgroup (0-33%).

Interpretation: The APA assay can objectively contribute to distinguishing between SBI recipients with limited or mild signs and symptoms. SBI recipients with more severe manifestations, and patients with specific autoimmune diseases. Further studies will be needed to define the signs and symptoms associated with exposure to SBI.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / blood
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Breast Implants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymers / adverse effects*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Silicones / adverse effects*


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Autoantibodies
  • Polymers
  • Silicones