Maria Penny had implants placed in her B-cup breasts to make them look fuller and larger. What she didn’t know at the time is that she was putting herself at risk for a rare but aggressive cancer. And while everything seemed fine for years, that disease was waiting patiently for its time to strike.
At the age of 34, Penny began to notice some startling changes. “I was running and I started getting a lot of pain in the left breast,” she said. “At first it was dismissed as a muscle strain as I’d been doing a lot of exercise in preparation for my wedding. I had two scans and was told they couldn’t see anything to worry about and they hadn’t ruptured.”
Then one of Penny’s breasts began to swell inexplicably and became four times its normal size. She went to see her surgeon about it and decided to have the implants removed as soon as possible. After the implants and surrounding scar tissue was removed, the tissue was tested and found to be malignant. Penny was diagnosed with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
She was devastated by the news and angered that nobody had informed her that getting implants could have such dangerous potential side effects.
“I burst out crying. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” said Penny, a resident of Lincolnshire, UK. “I wasn’t told about the risk of getting cancer. I would never have had the implants if I’d known.”
BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer but rather a cancer of the immune system, brought on by having a foreign object, namely a breast implant, inside one’s body for an extended period of time.
This is certainly not the first time an implant has been to blame for a woman’s cancer. We’ve known about BIA-ALCL for decades, as the first recorded case was in 1997. However, most plastic surgeons still don’t properly inform their patients of this risk.
In December 2018, Allergan was forced to recall textured breast implants in certain parts of the world due to the increased risk of cancer they carry. Penny knows hers were textured implants but is still waiting to find out what brand hers were and whether they were involved in the recall.
Luckily, however, Penny is likely cured of her cancer. It was stage I, meaning that it was localized to the scar tissue the surgeon removed and had not spread to the lymph nodes. After freezing her eggs, though, Penny underwent chemotherapy and radiation to be sure all the cancer cells were gone.
Penny had gotten married, and she and her husband were considering starting a family soon, but Penny has now been advised to wait at least two years, until the risk of cancer recurrence has dropped significantly.
“I’ve had four months off work, and I’ve been through so much,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have children, and now I’m having to hold back at 34 to make sure my health is good. Looking back, I suffered anxiety a few years ago and went to my GP in tears and I was wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I was told it was anxiety. But my life was amazing, and I had no reason to feel upset, and I wonder if it was related to the implants poisoning me.”
Now Penny worries that the prohibitive cost of having implants removed will keep women from doing it, even if they believe there’s a problem. “I’m speaking out to warn other women, as it’s not clear just how many are affected,” she said. “I fear not enough is being done to monitor women who’ve had these implants and they are a ticking time bomb.”
If you believe your implants may be causing health problems, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor. Please also take a close look at the risks involved before undergoing a breast implant procedure.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?