by Alecia Mouhanna
January 17, 2017
In a now-famous 2013 New York Times op-ed, actress Angelina Jolie surprised the world by announcing that she’d undergone a preventative bilateral mastectomy, in response to her heightened risk of developing breast cancer due to mutations in the BRCA1 gene. Though her decision seemed shocking at the time, it may have been reflective of a growing trend: according to one study, instances of bilateral mastectomies had nearly tripled in the 10-year period between 2002 and 2012, increasing from 3.9% to 12.7% in women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
Following bilateral and unilateral mastectomies, breast reconstruction has become the standard of care (largely thanks to the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998, which requires that insurance plans cover prosthetics and reconstructive procedures). While the vast majority of women do still choose to undergo the procedure, a smaller but still-significant portion of women appear to be deciding against the reconstructive process.
According to a study by The Freedonia Group, in spite of the increase in elective bilateral mastectomies, demand for breast implants is expected to decrease to $370 million in 2020, down from $400 million in 2015. This decline in demand is due to evolving standards of female beauty. Rising emphasis on going au natural -- whether it be in food, beauty products, or a person’s own body -- has rendered breast augmentation and other surgical enhancements somewhat passé. This is true both for individuals considering implants for cosmetic reasons (which still comprise the majority of demand for implants), and women who may be left weighing their options after breast cancer surgery.
Additionally, the challenges associated with invasive cosmetic surgical procedures such as breast augmentation present a check on demand for implants. While more advanced silicone implants certainly represent an improvement over the failure-prone saline products of the past, there is still a significant cost and risk associated with cosmetic breast augmentation. Women who choose to “go flat” and forego breast reconstruction after cancer are not only doing so as a rejection of standards for female beauty, but for their own peace of mind. Post-mastectomy reconstruction can be a lengthy, painful process that is highly prone to complications, such as infections. For women who’ve just undergone the rigors of cancer treatment, it may be far easier to adapt to a new version of normal.
But there is also a happier reason for declining demand for implants. While it’s true that bilateral mastectomy rates have risen, statistics gleaned from the NCI database also showed that rates of unilateral mastectomies had dropped from 35.8% to 28.9% between 2002 and 2012, with the rate of breast conserving surgery holding steady at 59%. As less invasive, more patient-friendly cancer treatments continue to evolve and eventually supplant major surgical procedures, there may one day come a time when women won’t have to decide whether or not they can do without.
To learn more, check out Medical Implants in the US, a new comprehensive industry study from The Freedonia Group, which provides analysis on the following:
Alecia Mouhanna is a Corporate Analyst at The Freedonia Group, where she researches and writes about a diverse range of topics, including construction and building materials, chemicals, packaging, and more.
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