Immune system disorders in women with silicone breast implants: a discovery by scientists from St Petersburg University


Silicone augmentation mammoplasty is a surgical technique that uses breast implants to increase the size of mammary glands, change their shape, or reconstruct them after loss. Such breast implant prostheses are made from a high molecular weight organosilicon compound − silicone. They are soft bags filled with either silicone gel or saline solution. Surgical implantation is often indicated either for improving the aesthetic shape of the breast or for breast reconstruction after mastectomy (breast removal) or in cases associated with congenital or acquired abnormalities of the mammary glands. Breast augmentation surgery has been quite popular in the world for many years. It has become the most common interference performed by plastic surgeons. However, healthcare providers still have concerns about their safety or harm to health.

The research findings are published in Langenbeck’s Archives of Surgery.

The scientists from St Petersburg University led by Yehuda Schoenfeld, Head of the Department of Hospital Surgery at St Petersburg University, Piotr Yablonsky, Vice-Rector for Medical Activities of St Petersburg University, and Leonid Churilov, Head of the Department of Pathology of St Petersburg University, examined the state of the immune system in 106 women who had undergone mammary surgery with or without silicone breast implants. They analysed a number of immunological and hormonal parameters. In particular, they collected blood samples and carried out a histological analysis of tissues and cells, as well as a psychological examination of the patients. Check-ups were carried prior to the operation, three months, six months and 12 months after the operation.

© St Petersburg University Valerii Zolotykh, plastic surgeon, St Petersburg University doctoral programme graduate
© St Petersburg University Valerii Zolotykh, plastic surgeon, St Petersburg University doctoral programme graduate

‘We have detected the phenomenon of increased levels of autoantibodies to the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) receptor (the main regulator of thyroid growth and function). This was only observed in those patients who received silicone implants; the group operated on without implants presented no such increase. The phenomenon of postoperative increase in prolactin and TSH levels was confirmed. It can be stated that women with implants develop increased autoimmunity to these receptors’, said Valerii Zolotykh, a plastic surgeon, the lead author of the study, a St Petersburg University doctoral programme graduate.

The study was carried out using equipment of the Resource Centre for Molecular and Cell Technologies of the St Petersburg University Research Park.

Autoantibodies to TSH receptors can cause thyroid gland disease also known as Graves’ disease. However, during the first year after the mammoplasty, the patients hardly present any clinical and laboratory signs of overt thyroid disease. At the same time, the researchers recommend that patients planning such surgeries undergo a thyroid examination and a test for antibodies to it. They consider Graves’ disease and autoimmune thyroiditis to be contraindications to such operations. And after such surgery, patients should monitor the level of autoimmunity to the thyroid gland for six months.

St Petersburg University, the oldest university in Russia, was founded on 28 January (8 February) 1724. This is the day when Peter the Great issued a decree establishing the University and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Today, St Petersburg University is an internationally recognised centre for education, research and culture. In 2024, St Petersburg University will celebrate its 300th anniversary.

The plan of events during the celebration of the anniversary of the University was approved at the meeting of the Organising Committee for the celebration of St Petersburg University’s 300th anniversary. The meeting was chaired by Dmitry Chernyshenko, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Among the events are: the naming of a minor planet in honour of St Petersburg University; the issuance of bank cards with a special design; the creation of postage stamps, dedicated to the history of the oldest university in Russia; and the branding of the aircraft of the Rossiya Airlines to name just a few. Additionally, the University has launched, dedicated to the upcoming holiday. The website contains information about outstanding University staff, students, and alumni; scientific achievements; and details of preparations for the anniversary.

The scientists plan to continue their study. Currently, the responses to psychological questionnaires, as well as results of histological tests are being analysed. On their agenda, there is a follow-up monitoring of the health status of the study participants for five years. They have decided to apply for a grant from the Russian Science Foundation.


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