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.