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Can Breast Implants Cause a Rare Form of Cancer?

Thursday, May 18, 2017 2:07 PM

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that a rare cancer is linked to breast implants and has been associated with nine deaths and more than 350 reports of the disease. Mark Sisco, MD, Chief of Plastic Surgery at NorthShore, discusses the FDA’s announcement and what it means for women who have implants or may be getting them.



What should women take away from this news from the FDA?

Certain breast implants have been associated with a rare form of cancer called Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL). The cancer is not related to breast cancer but is instead a rare malignancy in the immune system. ALCL may develop many years after the implants are placed, and it is usually curable when diagnosed and treated properly. ALCL may be indicated by new pain, lumps, swelling or asymmetry years after the implants are placed.

Should women with breast implants be concerned about the risk of cancer?

ALCL is extremely rare; it is estimated to occur in only 1/30,000 women with breast implants. In contrast, an average woman’s risk of developing brain and nervous system cancer is 1/185—over 150 times higher than the risk for ALCL. I advise that women be not so much concerned about ALCL as aware of it.

The FDA says certain implants are more associated with cancer, but what is the difference between implants? And should women with these types be more concerned?

ALCL has been associated with both silicone and saline-filled implants. There appears to be a stronger association between ALCL and textured implants as opposed to smooth implants. Some round as well as all anatomic or teardrop implants are textured. However, even among women with textured implants, the risk for ALCL is extremely low.

Can women who have implants do anything to ensure or monitor their health?

For women with breast implants, there is no need to change their routine care. They should follow their plastic surgeon’s instructions regarding follow up, which may include screening mammograms, ultrasounds or MRIs. Most importantly, women should be aware of their bodies and discuss any changes in their breast or reconstructed breast with their health care provider.