Breast implants don’t cause breast cancer, but they have recently been linked to a different, and very rare, form of cancer. This cancer, known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, is a disease of the immune system.
If this lymphoma is caught early enough, it can generally be taken care of with a surgical procedure that involves the removal of the implant and the surrounding scar tissue. However, more advanced cases of the disease require more treatment, like chemotherapy and radiation. And some cases can even be fatal.
The FDA began reporting on this problem in 2011, but now the number of cases is beginning to grow more quickly than before. The number of these cases that get reported to the FDA has risen from 359 to 414 in the past year. In early 2018, the total number of reported deaths was at 9. By mid-2019, it had risen to 33 deaths.
The cancer is more likely to occur in women whose implants have a textured coating instead of a smooth one, potentially because the texture may act as an irritant or trap bacteria. The risk does not appear to be linked at all to what material the implant is filled with. Nor is it linked to whether a woman got breast implants for medical versus cosmetic reasons.
Breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma can occur at anytime following a breast implant procedure—for some women, it has been as little as two years after surgery, and for other women, it’s been closer to thirty years later.
Luckily, this disease is so rare that it’s not worth having your implants taken out—or even getting screened for this type of cancer. If you have breast implants, you should be on the lookout for any signs of swelling around your implants, but if you don’t see this symptom, you probably don’t need to be alarmed. Talk to your doctor, however, if you have any questions or concerns.
According to a representative, Allergan, a breast implant manufacturer, is changing their product labels to reflect this issue, providing educational information to surgeons to give to patients, and hiring outside researchers to look into the issue further. They will also adjust their warranty to cover women who develop this disease after receiving a textured implant.
In 2019, Allergan recalled their textured implants worldwide.
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?