Can breast implants stop bullets? Not exactly. It does, however, appear that silicone implants might reduce the impact of shots substantially …
The shot was fired at close quarters. The bullet entered the front of the woman’s body through her nipple and left her body again at armpit height. Miraculously, the woman survived – or was it because she had had the size of her breast increased by a voluminous silicone implant filled with 370 cubic centimetres of saline solution?
Christopher Pannucci was puzzled by the case, which inspired the specialist for plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Utah in the USA to conduct an experiment. Is a silicone breast implant that is filled with a saline solution capable of influencing wound ballistics, i.e. the behaviour of a bullet after it enters a human body? This was the crucial question. The scientist and his colleagues report on their findings in the Journal of Forensic Sciences (DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.13589).
An insight into the test configuration
In their search for an answer, the scientists took a gun and aimed it at breast implants. They used a special test configuration for this purpose, making use in this context of resources that are standard in forensic ballistics.
To analyse the results of their shooting tests, they took particular advantage of transparent ballistic gelatin, with which it is possible to simulate projectile penetration of soft objects. Their transparency enables the path of a shot (temporary wound cavity) and the impact of splintering to be determined. Objects such as animal bones or synthetic materials can in addition be incorporated when the gelatine blocks are produced, in order to be able to draw the most realistic possible conclusions about the behaviour of bullets, blades and other objects that create wounds in the body of an animal or a human being. In forensics, ballistic gelatin is also used to “catch” bullets from weapons that have been seized after they have been fired without damaging them, in order to be able to compare them with bullets used for actual crimes. This procedure is based on the fact that every individual type of weapon leaves characteristic marks on a projectile. These marks are more or less the equivalent of human fingerprints.
Christopher Pannucci and his colleagues shot at a block of ballistic gelatin from a distance of two-and-a-half metres. The bullet broke through the surface and penetrated deep into the transparent block. The scientists then attached a breast implant at the place where the gelatin was hit by the bullet and repeated the experiment. The implant burst when the bullet hit it and penetrated the ballistic gelatin as well.
The scientist took a tape measure and compared the depth the two bullets reached – with and without the breast implant. There was no doubt about the result: according to Pannucci et al., the bullet that went through the breast implant penetrated the block of ballistic gelatin more than 20 per cent less. When the test was carried out repeatedly too. The scientists’ conclusion: breast implants can influence and reduce impact energy and thus penetration depth and bullet passage through human tissue.
Pannucci et al. speculate that the effect not only of bullets but also of other types of impact such as punches, falls or collisions can be lessened.
In spite of these findings and the protective role that plastic implants made from silicone and filler material can play, the scientists advise against drawing hasty and wrong conclusions from their tests. It would be a mistake to believe that an implant could be a substitute for a bullet-proof vest. They point out in addition that it is not unusual for force to lead to complete destruction of the implant too. The contents can escape and cause inflammation, among other things. If the worst comes to the worst, a destroyed breast implant can apparently make it necessary to remove the breast (mastectomy). GD
Christopher J. Pannucci et al., A Ballistics Examination of Firearm Injuries Involving Breast Implants, Journal of Forensic Sciences, 6 July 2017, DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.13589