Are Breast Implants Linked to Cancer?
For years, researchers have been studying a possible link between breast implants and the development of Breast-Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). But estimates of the risk of this happening have varied widely. So are breast implants in fact linked to breast cancer?
Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified a possible association between breast implants and the development of BIA-ALCL, which is an uncommon cancer of the immune system. The administration believes that women who have breast implants with textured surfaces have a very low risk of developing BIA-ALCL, but that doesn’t mean the implants were the cause of the disease.
While cancer is a scary topic to think about, the disease and its consequences are something we need to be aware of. Second to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women. In fact, U.S. women have a 12 percent risk of developing breast cancer.
What is Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma(ALCL)?
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a very rare, treatable form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer of the cells of the immune system and a known risk from breast implants. It occurs in breast tissue in about 3 in 100 million women. This rare form of cancer affects the cells of the immune system.
In cases where ALCL is linked to breast implants, the cancer is not found on the breast itself, but usually in the capsule of scar tissue that forms around the implant and fluid near the implant. There are even some cases where the ALCL has spread throughout the body.
In 2011, the FDA was the first public health agency in the world to communicate about the risks of BIA-ALCL, warning women that the available information at the time indicated that there is a risk for women with breast implants for developing this disease.
Researchers are still examining the correlation between ALCL and breast implants. For example, researchers have yet to determine whether saline or silicone implants affect the potential risk of developing ALCL. However, as of 2016, the World Health Organization specified BIA-ALCL as a T-cell lymphoma that can develop following breast implants.
How Might Breast Implants Cause Cancer?
It is unknown exactly how breast implants cause ALCL. The limited reporting of problems and lack of worldwide sales data on implants makes it difficult to identify the number of ALCL cases that exist and the cause.
Researchers believe there is a possibility that chronic inflammation plays a role. Studies have revealed markers of chronic inflammation in the scar tissue around the breast implants. This suggests that an immune response to the breast implants may trigger ALCL.
Another possible cause comes from an immune response that increases cancer risk due to the bacteria that surrounds the area around the implant. A study conducted in 2016 focused on the community of bacteria around tumor samples in people with ALCL that was linked to breast implants. The study revealed there was a significant difference from the community of bacteria around samples from people with breast implants who did not develop ALCL.
The symptoms of ALCL may occur years and even decades after undergoing breast implant surgery. Symptoms consist of persistent swelling or pain in the area of the breast implant.
Do Certain Types of Implants Increase the Risk of Developing ALCL?
It is believed that textured implants, which have a pebbly surface, rather than smooth implants have an increased risk of developing ALCL, although the risk is very low.
This does not mean that these type of implants cause ALCL. The FDA has received 231 reports of ALCL that contained information about the surface of the implant. The findings revealed textured implants were involved in 203 of these cases while only 28 cases involved smooth implants. Although it is not clear why the type of implant increases the cancer risk, it is apparent that the body reacts differently to textured implants than to smooth ones. A plastic surgeon and researcher at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine says that tissue grows into microscopic grooves in the textured implants.
Recent studies show that the lifetime risk of developing ALCL from a textured implant is from one in 4,000 to one in 30,000.
What actions is the FDA taking?
The FDA is interested in learning more about the correlation between breast implants and ALCL. In an effort to do so, they are implementing a registry in collaboration with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to gather additional information.
The FDA is also working with breast implant manufacturers to update their product labeling materials for patients and providers. This will help ensure patients are informed of the possible link between ALCL and breast implants.
ALCL is typically curable when detected early on and not often fatal. Surgical removal of the implants and the tissue around it eliminates the disease in many cases. However, some women may need to undergo chemotherapy and radiation.
Factors that increase the risk of breast cancer
Established and probable factors that increase breast cancer risk include:
- Age (older)
- Age at first childbirth (older)
- Age at first menstrual cycle (younger)
- Age at menopause (older)
- Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
- Being female
- Birth control pills
- High blood androgen levels
- High blood estrogen levels after menopause
- High bone density
- Personal family history of cancer
- Race and ethnicity
Factors that decrease breast cancer risk
- Physical activity after menopause
- Carotenoids (antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables)
In about 90% of breast cancer cases, women find a breast lump themselves. So, check your breasts regularly. If you have implants, pay extra attention to how your new breasts look and feel.
It can be concerning to learn there is an association between breast implants and cancer. While it is important to keep potential risks in perspective, it does not mean those who have breast implants should have them removed. Instead, make sure you schedule routine check-ups with your health care provider. If you notice any signs such as new breast swelling, lumps, pain or changes in breast shape, promptly schedule an appointment to report these symptoms.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
The Carlson Law firm is a client-first law firm. We have devoted decades of protecting the rights of injured victims. At a time when you’re vulnerable, traumatized and emotionally exhausted you need a team that will support you through the often complex that lies ahead.
If you or a loved one had a misdiagnosis or delayed breast cancer diagnosis, we have a medical malpractice team ready to protect you in any way we can. Contact us today to discuss your situation and explore your legal options. We care, we can help.
- Written by Adriana Torres