Can Breast Implants Cause Cancer? FDA Releases New Information

The Food and Drug Administration just released a new statement linking breast implants to a rare form of blood cancer. The breast implant-related cancer is already reported to have caused nine deaths. For those women who have breast implants themselves, a cancer screening might be in order.

Breast implants cause a rare type of cancer

In a statement they released this Tuesday, the FDA said that breast implants cause women to have a higher risk of developing a rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma or ALCL, a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or blood cancer. Technically speaking, ALCL is not even a type of breast cancer since it attacks the skin or lymph nodes and affects the cells in the immune system. However, the cancer cells work its way from the breast implant and spread out from there to other parts of the body, CNN explained.

Silicone and saline breast implants
Silicone gel (left) and saline gel (right) implants are very popular in the U.S. [Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

Early suspicions

Six years ago, in 2011, the FDA already had its suspicions about the possibility of breast implants causing cancer in women. However, there are very few cases to support the agency’s suspicions. Now, the availability of more information has made it possible to confirm that breast implants do increase the risk of breast cancer among women. The World Health Organization also reported that breast implants cause breast cancer following hundreds of complaints from women who did not know that they were showing symptoms of ALCL.

More alarming is the fact that nine deaths have already been reported out of the 359 cases that the FDA has received.

“As of February 1, 2017, the FDA has received a total of 359 medical device reports of breast-implant-associated ALCL, including nine deaths.”

Rare cases of breast implant-related cancer

On the other hand, very few patients are diagnosed with ALCL due to breast implants. The number of women reported to have cancer form due to implants have been very low given the 10-year span it takes for cancer to develop, NBC reported.

Still, the administration voiced their concerns for those who are at higher risk of having ALCL.

“All of the information to date suggests that women with breast implants have a very low but increased risk of developing ALCL compared to women who do not have breast implants.”

Despite earlier health concerns, breast implants remain a popular cosmetic procedure worldwide with roughly 11 million women doing it every year. Last year, a total of 290, 467 breast implant procedures were done in the U.S., according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Every year, the U.S. performs an average of 300,000 breast implant procedures.

The importance of cancer awareness and information

The FDA did not altogether say that women should not have breast implants. Instead, the agency recommended that patients do research and weigh the pros and cons of breast implants before getting the surgery. The FDA also emphasized that while breast implant cancer is quite rare, women with textured breast implants are at higher risk. Of the reports, 203 who turned positive for ALCL declared that they had textured breast implants, and only 28 reported their implants to be smooth ones.

Textured shells for breast implants
Textured breast implants dominate cases of breast implant-related cancers [Image by Scott Cohen/AP Images]

“Although it is rare, breast-implant-associated ALCL appears to develop more frequently in women with textured implants than in women with smooth-surfaced implants. Before getting breast implants, make sure to talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of textured-surface vs. smooth-surfaced implants.”

Early prevention is better than long-term cure

According to FDA, treating ALCL is very easy in most cases since all it takes is removing the implant, which is where cancer cells spread out. In some cases, though, more advanced treatment like chemotherapy or radiation is required to kill the cancer cells that have already spread to other parts of the body.

The FDA advised women who have had the cosmetic surgery to monitor their breast implants for any changes. Routine mammography screening catered to patients with breast implants is also recommended. MRI, instead of just mammography, is advised to those who have silicone gel implants.

The most common symptoms of ALCL are found to be pain and swelling in the breasts. Patients who turned out positive for ALCL and admitted to having implants state these two symptoms as the most common and obvious telltale signs of the disease. Other symptoms to watch out for also include redness around the breast implants or hardening due to fluid or mass buildup.

[Featured Image by Lionel Cironneau/AP Images]