On Wednesday, the FDA announced that the number of cases of breast implant associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, an unusual cancer, linked to breast implants, had increased in the last year from 359 to 414, with 16 deaths blamed on the disease. These figures included not only US cases, but those from other countries as well. (The agency didn’t start reporting on the problem until 2011 and believe that the rise in cases may be due to increased awareness and diagnosis.)
Breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma is not a cancer of the breast but rather a malignancy of the immune system. When it’s detected early, normally surgery alone- removing the implant and capsule of scar tissue formed around it- is enough to consider a woman “cured.” But in some cases, women have needed more extensive treatment including chemo and radiation because the disease can be fatal.1
If you have implants, a major symptom is swelling around the implant, which can occur at any stage after surgery, even up to decades later. However, in women with no symptoms, the FDA says there’s no reason to remove implants or even screen for the disease.
Although the FDA isn’t ready to “state conclusively that textured implants”2 are the sole cause of disease, the lymphoma is more likely to occur in women who have implants with a textured coating (as opposed to smooth). Which is the conclusion that the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has come to as well.
However, no connection has been found between salt water vs silicone implants nor is the lymphoma associated with women who have breast cancer- regardless of why they got the implants.
“Textured implants have roughened surfaces that may act as an irritant in some women, provoking inflammation that can lead to lymphoma, researchers say. Another theory is that the texturing might trap bacteria, and that a chronic infection could also bring on the cancer.
Doctors and patients sometimes prefer textured implants because they are less likely to shift out of position than smooth ones, as tissue grows into the roughened surface and holds the implant in place. In the United States, most implants are smooth; textured ones are more popular in Europe.”3
Every year in the US, about 450,000 women get implants for either cosmetic or reconstructive reasons, and in comparison, the number of those women who develop lymphoma is very small. However, after calling the disease “rare” for many years, the FDA changed the language on its website and now lists the odds of breast implant associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma as 1 in 3,817.
Currently, Allergan, a major manufacturer of breast implants, is having outside investigators research the causes of the lymphoma. We will watch for their findings and update the story as soon as we are able.
I took my implants out over ten years ago and have never looked back. And in 2018, physicians really do understand the health challenges associated with implants. So if you are having a problem, don’t stay silent, get help. Your life could depend on it.