Hazards of Illegal Silicone Injections

FOREST HILLS, NY – Liquid silicone injected into a young Maria Farkas’ breasts gave her an enviable figure but the illegal procedure exposed her to untold health risks, some 40 years later.

Ms. Farkas underwent the injections three times in the late 1970s, first at a clinic in uptown Manhattan and then twice at one in Astoria, Queens. 

“My breasts looked very nice in the beginning,” said Ms. Farkas, who was encouraged by the results a friend got from the injections. “But over time, they looked deformed and became hard.”

Blisters formed around her nipples, which frequently oozed a blood-tinged discharge.

A doctor in the late 1980s advised Ms. Farkas to have the silicone surgically removed, but told her that the surgery would leave her with a “scar from side to side.”

Scared and embarrassed, Ms. Farkas opted to do nothing and suffer in silence.

The liquid silicone coated the tissues in her chest cavity making mammogram results unusable. Instead, MRIs and CT scans were done for her annual breast screenings.

Now, with the help of general and plastic surgeons at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital, Ms. Farkas is getting her life back on track after undergoing a mastectomy because of the silicone.

According to the Food & Drug Administration, medical grade silicone can only be lawfully injected into humans for the treatment of a limited list of eye injuries.

Silicone basically comes in two grades: medical and industrial (which is nonsterile and can be found in products such as cement, mineral oil and flat-tire sealant).   Either grade of liquid silicone can cause problems when injected, explained Neil Tanna, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon and program director of plastic surgery at Northwell Health.

“Unlike a silicone breast implant, which is confined within a shell, liquid silicone injected into an area gets incorporated into the tissue,” said Dr. Tanna. “While it initially adds volume, over time it creates an inflammatory reaction and can cause tissue hardening, skin ulceration, pain, and granulomas – little pockets of inflammation – which will then distort the breast.”

Sometimes the silicone gets into the bloodstream and spreads to other parts of the body, causing blood clots, strokes, gangrene and even death.  

 “It got to the point where there was no other choice but to do a mastectomy, which is often done for cancer purposes, but in this case we did it to remove the silicone infiltrated breast,” explained Dr. Tanna.

In January, general surgeon Jose Paul, MD, performed a skin-sparing mastectomy on Ms. Farkas, which preserved her breast skin and removed the underlying tissue that had silicone in it, as well as her nipples and areolas.

Immediately afterward, Dr. Tanna placed temporary tissue expanders behind her chest wall muscle to reconstruct new breast mounds.

Three months later, Dr. Tanna took out the expanders and put in silicone implants. Her final surgery will be done soon to recreate the look of an areola and nipple.

“If I knew then what I know now I would have never done it,” said Ms. Farkas. “I regret it every day.”

Her story is eerily similar to another cosmetic procedure – liquid silicone injections (aka free silicone) used to increase buttocks size – which is on the rise, with sometimes fatal consequences.

The bottom line, says Dr. Tanna, is that if someone is interested in buttocks or breast enlargement, they need to consult with an appropriately licensed practitioner who offers FDA-approved products.

“This can save you from irreversible damage,” cautions Dr. Tanna.

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