Breast Implants and Cancer: An Update
More than two years ago, we published information about a growing concern connecting certain breast implants with a rare form of cancer: anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). We believe strongly that it’s our responsibility to share this kind of news with our New York breast augmentation patients and other women who may be considering breast implants or who may already have them.
It’s time for an update.
What is ALCL?
In case you missed our previous post, you might want to look over some of the wealth of information the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers. On a Q&A page (find it here), the FDA explains that breast implant-associated ALCL (BIA-ALCL) is not breast cancer, rather it is a rare cancer of cells found in the immune system. These cells often appear in fluid surrounding breast implants, and they can occur in other areas of the body as well. You’ll hear BIA-ALCL referred to as a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that affects the T-cells.
What’s the Risk?
When we first started advising New York breast augmentation patients about the disease a few years ago, the FDA had recognized about 350 cases of BIA-ALCL. As of last year that number has been revised to just over 450.
Most organizations acknowledge that characterizing risk is very difficult, due to incomplete worldwide figures on breast augmentation with implants and to under reporting of cases of BIA-ALCL. In a 2015 Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery journal article catalogued on PubMed, researchers noted that risk estimates range from one in 500,000 to one in 3 million women with implants. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Plastic Surgery Foundation offer a pamphlet for patients in which the risk is estimated to be one in just under 4,000 to one in 30,000.
Keeping in mind that more than 300,000 thousand women and transgender women elect breast augmentation surgery annually in the U.S. alone, it’s easy to see that the chances of contracting BIA-ALCL are very low. As of today, it appears that women with textured implants run a higher risk of developing the disease than those with smooth implants. No other factors (such as implant fill) have been associated with higher risk.
What Are the Symptoms?
According to the FDA, symptoms to watch for include swelling around the breast implant often found well after recovery from surgery, even years down the road. Some patients find a lump or area of hardened tissue near the implant or experience capsular contracture (a tightening of the scar tissue around the implant). Patients should also be on the lookout for pain and breast asymmetry.
Whenever a patient develops symptoms like these, a return trip to the surgeon is indicated. Board certified plastic surgeons should be well informed about BIA-ALCL and ready to investigate and begin treatment with a multi-disciplinary medical team. Fortunately, when caught early, the disease is quite treatable. Patients with more advanced cases may require chemotherapy or radiation.
What Should You Do?
If you’re thinking about breast enlargement with implants, the first thing to do is consider working with plastic surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery only. These doctors are required to keep up with developments in the industry and will be in the best position to advise you. We would be happy to speak with you about breast augmentation in New York with us.
For those who already have breast implants, the FDA does not recommend removing them “just in case.” Instead, the organization advises women to monitor their implants carefully and follow all instructions for after care. If swelling, lumps, pain or anything else unusual develops, make an appointment with your plastic surgeon right away.
If you’re one of those patients who can’t get enough information prior to making decisions about your body and your health, good for you! Follow the links in this article to read more about BIA-ALCL, and check out the Plastic Surgery Foundation’s website. That organization offers dozens of resources detailing individual cases, diagnosis and management of the disease, information from other countries and more. Find it here.