Airport Screening and Breast Implants

The holiday season is full of strenuous activities and one of these is travel. Anyone who has traveled by air in the past year knows that security is getting ever more scrutinizing. But of all the things that could be potentially hazardous to an airplane and its passengers,  who knew that breast implants would be one of them?

Recently, a flight attendant’s breast prosthesis (external) became an unfortunate source of controversy that  illustrates the  growing conflict between one’s privacy and that of air travel security. New TSA screening rules include the use of either full-body scanners or pat-downs for selected passengers, the inclusion criteria of which is not clear. Incredulously, the flight attendant was made to remove her implant as part of the screening process.. This event has understandably raised concerns amongst some plastic surgery patients about their right to having to reveal their most intimate of physical information.

If you are traveling and have any implants, breast or otherwise, do you have to tell screeners that you have implants? According to the TSA website, “It is recommended (but not required) that you advise the Security Officer that you have an implanted medical device, and where that implant is located. If you have an implanted medical device that you would like to remain private and confidential, ask the Security Officer to please be discreet when assisting you through the screening process.”

While having breast implants is a personal matter, stepping onto a public airline mandates that you may be asked to give up all your rights to privacy. This offends all of us but this issue has long had a legal precedent. A similar issue confronted us decades ago in the height of the first wave of terrorist activity in airlines…the introduction of the need to pass through a metal detector. Similar concerns were raised then and the highest court in the land ruled that making you do so was not unconstitutional.

The body scanner has the ability to not only see breast implants but many other types of implants as well. From facial implants, chemotherapy ports, shunts for water on the brain, any artificial orthopedic joint replacements and even testicular implants. No one knows the actual statistics but I would estimate that at least one out of every three people traveling have some indwelling implant. Pat downs, of course, can tell almost none of these internal issues but they are infinitely more offensive.

I am certain that the TSA doesn’t care if you have had breast augmentation. But you can argue that their concern about them has some validity. Intelligence reports have come forth that indicates that terrorists may be having women implanted with breast prostheses filled with explosive material. This would be all too easy to do and is a potential reality. It only requires a method of activation, an indwelling receiver to make it work. And this is exactly what a body scanner can hopefully pick up.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana