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The Infected or Exposed Breast Implant: Management and Treatment Strategies

Spear, Scott L. M.D.; Howard, Michael A. M.D.; Boehmler, James H. M.D.; Ducic, Ivica M.D.; Low, Merv M.D.; Abbruzzesse, Mark R. M.D.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: May 2004 - Volume 113 - Issue 6 - p 1634-1644
doi: 10.1097/01.PRS.0000117194.21748.02
Original Articles

Among the potential complications associated with the use of breast implants are the risks of periprosthetic infection and device extrusion. There is little published information about the effective management of these situations. Conservative recommendations include antibiotic therapy and removal of the implant until resolution of the infection or until the wound has healed. A retrospective review identified patients with periprosthetic infection or threatened or actual device exposure treated by the senior author. Twenty-four patients encompassing 26 affected prostheses were available for review and were classified into seven groups based on initial presentation as follows: group 1, mild infection (n = 8); group 2, severe infection (n = 4); group 3, threatened exposure without infection (n = 3); group 4, threatened exposure with mild infection (n = 3); group 5, threatened exposure with severe infection (n = 1); group 6, actual exposure without clinical infection (n = 5); and group 7, actual exposure with infection (n = 2). To salvage the prosthesis in these patients, various treatment strategies were utilized. All patients with a suspected infection or device exposure were started immediately on appropriate antibiotic therapy (oral antibiotics for mild infections and parenteral antibiotics for severe infections). Salvage methods included one or more of the following: antibiotic therapy, débridement, curettage, pulse lavage, capsulectomy, device exchange, primary closure, and/or flap coverage. Twenty (76.9 percent) of 26 threatened implants with infection or threatened or actual prosthesis exposure were salvaged after aggressive intervention. The presence of severe infection adversely affected the salvage rate in this series. A statistically significant difference exists among those patients without infection or with mild infection only (groups 1, 3, 4, and 6); successful salvage was achieved in 18 (94.7 percent) of 19 patients, whereas only two of seven of those implants with severe infection (groups 2, 5, and 7) were salvaged (p = 0.0017). Ten (90.9 percent) of 11 devices with threatened or actual exposure, not complicated by severe infection (groups 3, 4, and 6), were salvaged. Several treatment strategies were developed for periprosthetic infection and for threatened or actual implant exposure. Patients with infection were placed on oral or intravenous antibiotics; those who responded completely required no further treatment. For persistent mild infection or threatened or actual exposure, operative intervention was required, including some or all of the following steps: implant removal, pocket curettage, partial or total capsulectomy, débridement, site change, placement of a new implant, and/or flap coverage; the menu of options varied with the precise circumstances. No immediate salvage was attempted in five cases, due to either severe infection, nonresponding infection with gross purulence, marginal tissues, or lack of options for healthy tissue coverage. Based on the authors’ experience, salvage attempts for periprosthetic infection and prosthesis exposure may be successful, except in cases of overwhelming infection or deficient soft-tissue coverage. Although an attempt at implant salvage may be offered to a patient, device removal and delayed reinsertion will always remain a more conservative and predictable option.

Washington, D.C.

From the Division of Plastic Surgery, Georgetown University Hospital.

Received for publication February 24, 2003; revised June 18, 2003.

Presented at the 71st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in San Antonio, Texas, November of 2002.

Scott L. Spear, M.D., Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 1-PHC, Georgetown University Medical Center, 3800 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20007,

©2004American Society of Plastic Surgeons