Breast Implants and Cancer: Should You Worry?
Last month, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reported new information on a link between a rare form of cancer and breast implants. We’ve followed the development of the investigation closely so we can advise our New York breast augmentation patients with the most up-to-date news available. We thought we would share an update here.
First, the News
There appears to be a connection between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare kind of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The FDA first reported a possible link in 2011, although the agency knew of only a few cases at the time. Since then, the FDA has sought more data even though collection is difficult, especially in foreign countries where reporting procedures vary.
Today, the agency is aware of 359 cases of ALCL in women with breast implants. 203 had textured surfaces and 28 were smooth; the remaining implants’ surfaces were not known. The FDA’s conclusion as of now is that the data suggest that there’s a “very low but increased risk” of ALCL for patients with breast implants, and implant-associated ALCL “occurs more frequently following implantation of breast implants with textured surfaces rather than those with smooth surfaces.”
Regarding treatment, the FDA found that most cases are handled by removing the device and breast capsule. Some women went on to have chemotherapy and radiation. Nine deaths have occurred among the 359 patients.
If You’re Considering Breast Implants
We encourage our New York breast augmentation patients to become well informed about breast implants prior to surgery. The FDA has a great deal of information available, including risks like ALCL. If you’re interested in technical publications, you can visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s list of publications dealing with breast implants and lymphoma here.
As you learn more about the different types of implants, including silicone vs. saline fill, shape, shell surface and more, be sure you discuss the choices with your plastic surgeon. He or she will have preferences and experiences to share with you.
As mentioned, the FDA characterizes the risk to breast augmentation patients as “very low but increased” when compared to women who have not had the cosmetic surgery. With around 300,000 women electing the procedure each year in this country and 359 known cases of breast implant-associated ALCL, you can understand why the risk is pegged at “very low.” If you’re concerned, selecting implants with smooth surfaces appears to minimize the chances of contracting ALCL. We use smooth implants in our practice almost exclusively.
If You Have Breast Implants
If you have breast implants already, and particularly if they are textured, it’s natural to be concerned even though you know the risk of ALCL is quite small. The FDA advises women in bold type: there is no need to change your routine medical care and follow-up. You should get regular mammograms and request a technician who is familiar with breast implants to perform the exam. If you have silicone gel-filled implants, the FDA urges you to get periodic MRI screenings as recommended by your primary care physician or plastic surgeon.
Note that the FDA does not suggest you have your implants removed “just in case.”
In its advice to physicians, the FDA states that most cases of ALCL have been found in patients with a persistent seroma, or fluid-filled swelling, that occurs well after surgery. Therefore, if you experience pain, lumps, swelling or unusual asymmetry, you should consult your doctor.
Because just 359 cases of ALCL have been identified during a period of time when well over a million women have chosen breast implant surgery, we don’t believe that the risk is elevated enough for our New York breast augmentation patients to be worried. We have never had a patient contract ALCL, though we do recognize that women with implants—especially textured implants—experience a higher incidence of this form of cancer than women without implants.
Implanting any device into the body involves a certain amount of risk. In the case of breast implants, risks are generally low. We do, however, recommend our New York breast augmentation patients visit us once a year—forever—so we can check their implants. We do not charge for these routine visits.
We will continue to follow the research and make information available to our community. If you’d like to talk with us about this or any other matter related to plastic surgery, call our office at 212-570-6080.