The link between breast implants and a rare form of cancer has been officially recognized. It’s not breast cancer but a cancer of the immune system called anaplastic large cell lymphoma or ALCL and it grows in the breast of implant patients.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as of February 1, 2017, they have received a total of 359 reports involving breast implant-associated ALCL, of which there have been 9 deaths so far. Of these 359 cases, only 231 included information on the type of implant surface used (203 were textured implants while 28 were smooth implants) and 312 included information on the type of implant fill used (186 used silicone gel and 126 used saline implants).
Although the reason isn’t clear yet, the type of surface texture seems to have some significance because statistics suggest that the disease is more frequent in patients who received implants with textured rather than smooth surfaces. One theory points to a specific type of bacterial infection that affects the area surrounding the implant. The study, which was conducted in 2016, showed that the bacteria colony found around implants of those who developed ACLC were different from those they found around implants of those who didn’t get the disease.
On the other hand, the implant fill doesn’t seem to have special relevance.
While the link implies that women who have breast implants are more likely to develop this malignancy, it also has to be highlighted that this is an extremely rare form of cancer.
As Dr. Maggie DiNome, a breast cancer surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, told CBS News: “They have only documented 300 or so cases of this. We’re talking about 300 out of 10 million women worldwide with implants, so it’s very, very rare and it’s very curable if you were to get it.”
The cancer typically occurs in the scar tissue that forms around the implant. Specifically, the tumors grow in the immune system cells, not in the breast tissue themselves. Symptoms include pain, lumps, swelling and fluid build-up. And the disease is usually treatable. For some, simply removing the implant and the surrounding tissue is sufficient to eliminate the disease. For others, though, chemotherapy and radiation treatment may be required.
Because a medical procedure was done, the FDA recommends that routine care and support should be given to breast implant patients, especially because ACLA can manifest even a long time after the surgery was done. Provided there are no symptoms, however, the implants can be left alone.
Additionally, women who are considering having breast implants — whether for cosmetic or reconstructive purposes — should be cautioned and properly informed about the risks associated with the procedure, including the elevated risk for choosing an implant with textured surface versus one with a smooth surface.
FDA is also encouraging doctors and patients to report breast implant-related ALCL cases so the risks associated with it can be understood better.