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What is the Real Cancer Risk for Women with Breast Implants?

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The FDA recently warned women and their healthcare providers on March 21, 2017, of a potential cancer risk associated with breast implants. They noted that since 2011, they had received hundreds of reports of breast-implant-related anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare type of blood cancer. Breast implants with a textured surface seemed to create a greater risk than smooth implants.

In a recent interview with Health.com, Clara Lee, M.D., a reconstructive surgeon at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, noted that the ALCL cancer isn’t a form of breast cancer, but rather, is found in the area around the implants or in the lymph nodes and is slow growing.

ALCL Shows Up 5-10 Years After Implant Surgery

According to the FDA, as of February 1, 2017, it had received 359 reports of breast implant patients who had developed ALCL. Nine of those patients died. In 231 of the reports, there were details included about the type of implant the patient had received. Out of those, 203 were textured implants and 28 were smooth implants.

Dr. Lee explained that the most concerning risks involving breast implants usually show up within a few years after the original implant surgery. The implant can start to leak, for example, which requires removal and replacement of the implant. A layer of scar tissue may also develop around the implant, creating a condition called “capsular contracture.” The tissue around the implant starts to shrink, causing the breasts may feel hard or appear misshapen. This may require the patient to have the implant and the surrounding scar tissue removed.

In contrast, ALCL can develop within 5 to 10 years after surgery and can cause swelling, pain, redness, and hardness. The FDA advised women to be aware of the possibility of cancer if they develop these types of symptoms or if a mass develops near the implant.

Why Textured Implants May Create a Higher Risk

The information provided by the FDA suggests that textured implants have a higher risk of ALCL than smooth implants. Scientists have posited some potential theories for why this might be. Textured implants are designed to facilitate tissue growth on the implant’s surface, to better hold the implant in place and provide a more consistent appearance. This type is also believed to help prevent capsular contracture. Smooth implants, on the other hand, are completely smooth and less likely to attach to the skin.

Many different manufacturers make textured implants. Since there a number of different textured implants on the market, it is more difficult to determine what may be causing the increased risk of cancer. According to the New York Times, animal studies have shown different levels of genetic activity in response to smooth versus textured implants. Others have suggested that the cancer may be associated with certain types of infections near the implants.

Women who received these implants without a warning of the potential cancer connection and then developed ALCL, may be eligible to file a breast implant cancer lawsuit against the manufacturer.

3 Comments

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    I think your article is poor as you do not include any information to indicate whether this cancer risk is common or rare. There is mention of 359 reports- but no mention of how many women have had implants.
    In fact, if you look at the figures there are at least 5-10 million women with silicone breast implants and the 359 reports are the total number of reports EVER and not all of a sudden. So the estimated figure of risk of implant associated ALCL, from a large population based study is just 1 in 300,000 women. Given that the background risk of breast cancer for women during their lifetime is 1 in 8, the additional risk of 1 in 300,000 is actually very small. That is not to say women should not be warned- of course they should; but the figures need to be discussed properly with a numerator and a denominator. Please consider adding this to your article.

  2. Michelle Pastor says:
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    Please ask women to keep copies of all medical records, labs, and imaging. I have too many friends who go to doctors with enlarged lymph nodes, painful breast, and Seroma, and they are completely disregarded. Any fluid needs to be tested for CD30. Most plastic surgeons don’t even know what the test is. Document everything and symptomatic women with Seroma should demand testing.

  3. Michelle Pastor says:
    up arrow

    I have too many friends who go to doctors with enlarged lymph nodes, painful breast, and Seroma, and they are completely disregarded. Any fluid needs to be tested for CD30. Most plastic surgeons don’t even know what the test is. Document everything and symptomatic women with Seroma should demand testing.