Do breast implants increase cancer risk?

November 08, 2017 | by Christine Gresik, MD

Whether you are thinking about breast augmentation to enhance the shape and size of your breasts, or breast reconstruction to restore your breasts following cancer surgery, getting breast implants has its pros and cons.

Most people want to know how their body will react to a saline or gel breast implant, and whether the implant itself can cause cancer and future problems down the line.

Though neither saline nor silicone breast implants appear to increase your risk of breast cancer, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recently discovered enough new information to update their 2011 warning about a possible link between breast implants and a different, extremely rare form of cancer called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

In 2016, the World Health Organization recognized BIA-ALCL as a rare T-cell lymphoma that can develop following breast implants. Usually found near the implant within the surrounding scar tissue, BIA-ALCL has been reported in both silicone gel and saline implants. Although current data shows that cancer of breast implants occurs more frequently with textured-surface breast implants versus those with smooth implants.

Researchers believe BIA-ALCL may occur as a result of inflammation surrounding the implant, and tissue that grows into the tiny holes in the textured implant may prolong that inflammation. Though the exact number is unclear, the FDA has received 359 reports of breast-implant related cancer.

Women diagnosed with BIA-ALCL have noticed pain, lumps, swelling or breast asymmetry within their breasts. They also observed changes in the look or feel of the area surrounding the implant more than one year after their initial surgical sites were fully healed and on overage 8-10 years after receiving textured implants. Most cases are treated by removing the implant and the capsule surrounding the implant. In some instances, women have been treated by chemotherapy and radiation.

Since this type of cancer is extremely rare (0.3% per 100,000 women develop cancer in their implants) and is highly treatable, the FDA does not think this recent research should discourage women from getting implants or breast reconstruction. There is no special screening to monitor for this extremely rare disease. All women with implants should still follow the recommended guidelines for annual breast imaging.

Instead, the FDA recommends you:

  • Educate yourself about breast implants before agreeing to surgery
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of textured-surface versus smooth-surfaced implants

If you are concerned because you already have implants, the FDA recommends you:

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to monitor your implants and keep up with routine screenings such as mammograms or MRIs
  • Contact your physician immediately if you notice any changes

Don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your body or about the procedure. Your doctor can help you determine what course of action is right for you.

Discover the basics of breast reconstruction in a Q&A with Dr. Lucio Pavone.

Schedule a mammogram screening near you, or learn more about breast health at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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