Uncovering the Link Between Breast Implants and Cancer

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) reported that in 2016, there were 1.5 million breast implant procedures undertaken. Whilst all surgery comes with its own risks, patients undergoing breast implant surgery must be made aware of the associated risks of breast implant associated-anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

BIA-ALCL is a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, closely linked to breast implants. Studies indicate that the cancer is in fact linked to bacteria-contaminated implants. While the risks are low, it is important that women who have undergone this procedure seek clarification from their surgeon as to the type of implants used.

Breast implant risks

Checking breast for symptoms associated with BIA-ALCL

There are a number of risks associated with breast implants yet the overwhelming response from women who undergo this surgery for reconstructive reasons is positive.

Implants used for cosmetic reasons and breast reconstruction that have either a textured or polyurethane surface, for both saline and silicone implants are currently being analysed for their link to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Cairns Plastic Surgery only uses Mentor smooth round silicone gel implants which are safe and provide no reported health concerns.

Self examining breast implantBe vigilant – check your breasts regularly

All women should be breast aware and regularly check their breasts for lumps or changes in breast size or shape that could otherwise go unnoticed. Early detection is key when it comes to dealing with breast cancer. If self-examination, at least monthly, is not something you can easily manage, organise a regular clinical breast exam. It is important to note that women should be vigilant about checking their breasts even if they have implants.

In the case of BIA-ALCL, common symptoms generally present after 7 – 10 years post implant surgery. These symptoms include lumps, swelling, pain or enlargement in breasts years after getting implants. It can also include additional symptoms such as a lump in the armpit.

The implant itself is foreign to our body and as a natural protective mechanism; your body forms scar tissue around the implant, known as the scar capsule. The breast implant-associated cancer is typically found in this capsule.

As a result, women who notice any changes to their breasts should see their doctor straight away.

Concerned? What you should do next.

Whilst this is a rare form of blood cancer, the key is to be aware. There is no alert or urgent need for women to have their implants removed. In fact, health authorities do not recommend this as a preventative measure.

If BIA-ALCL is detected early, it can be effectively treated with explant surgery. Cairns Plastic Surgery undertakes this treatment, also known as a total capsulectomy where all of the capsule and scar tissue is removed. The total capsulectomy is an essential part of the procedure to ensure the longevity of the patient’s health.

The good news is that the majority of patients require no additional treatment. In extremely rare cases, there may be a need for chemotherapy and / or radiotherapy.

If you have had breast implant surgery, and you are unaware of the type of implant used, contact your surgeon directly.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has maintained a close eye on this concern and has continued to share information about the condition since it was first alerted to it in 2011. You can find out more information on BIA-ALCL made available to the public regarding breast implants and the association to cancer.

If you have any concerns or questions about breast self examinations or your breast implants, schedule a consultation with Cairns Plastic Surgery. Call 07 4031 5755 to discuss your options. All consultations are confidential and suitable cosmetic surgery procedures are performed with the patient’s health and safety as a priority.