Breast implants linked to cancer
Each year, nearly 400,000 women in the United States receive breast implants. 300,000 of these procedures are categorized as “cosmetic”, while the remaining 100,000 are known as reconstructive surgeries. In a cosmetic procedure, a woman has decided to augment her own figure with the help of implants. In a reproductive surgery, implants are used to recreate breasts after mastectomy (breast removal surgery). Recently, the synthetic implants used in both procedures have been linked to a rare T-cell lymphoma known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
What are breast implants?
Since the late 1800’s, breast implants have been used to surgically enhance the size, shape and feel of a woman’s breasts. They are generally characterized as prosthetic implants defined by their filler material: saline solution, silicone gel and composite filler. Breast implants are also used in reconstructive plastic surgery to restore a natural breast shape after a mastectomy. Composite filled breast implants, using miscellaneous fillers like soy oil or polypropylene string are banned in United States and Europe due to associated health risks and complications. Generally, all type of breast implants utilize an elastomer silicone shell, which is thought to be the cause of BIA-ALCL.
What is BIA-ALCL?
BIA-ALCL is a T-cell lymphoma type of cancer found in the breasts of some women with implants. It is important to note that BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer. It is a type of immune system cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This cancer can effect different parts of the body, including the skin and lymph nodes. It has been suggested that BIA-ALCL occurs more frequently following textured rather than smooth breast implants.
What are the symptoms BIA-ALCL?
Symptoms of BIA-ALCL vary widely and are initially preceded by persistent swelling or pain in the vicinity of the breast implant. This pain persists well after the surgical wound has healed. BIA-ALCL symptoms may often mirror the symptoms of breast cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately:
- Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling anywhere on the breast
- Unexplained swelling of the breast
- Unexplained shrinkage of the breast
- Recent asymmetry of the breasts
- Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted
- Change in the skin of the breast
- Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
- A change in the skin texture or pore size of the breast
- A lump or abnormal swelling in the breast
Although symptoms mirror those of breast cancer, BIA-ALCL effects the area surrounding the implant itself. This effusion fluid will almost always cause the breast to swell and become tender.
Has the FDA addressed BIA-ALCL?
The Food and Drug Administration has issued a series of warnings for breast implants and even demanded label changes which outline the dangers of BIA-ALCL. “The FDA concurs with the World Health Organization that BIA-ALCL is a rare T-cell lymphoma that can develop following breast implants. At this time, most data suggest that BIA-ALCL occurs more frequently following implantation of breast implants with textured surfaces rather than those with smooth surfaces.” The FDA went on to state that patients with late onset, persistent peri-implant seroma were at higher risk for BIA-ALCL. There have been accusations that the FDA hasn’t done enough to warn patients of this potentially deadly complication.
The NY Times stated, “the added warnings are deeply embedded in a dense list of complications, and no implants have been recalled.”
Have others been affected by implant induced BIA-ALCL?
The New York Times recently profiled a 43-year-old woman who was diagnosed with BIA-ALCL after nearly losing her life to breast cancer just six years prior.
“My whole world came crumbling down again… I had spent the past six years going to the oncologist every three months trying to keep cancer away, and here was something I had put in my body to try to help me feel more like a woman, and it gave me cancer. I thought, ‘I’m not going to see my kids grow up.”
The story went on to detail the recent FDA update outlining nine deaths linked to BIA-ALCL. It has been speculated that the number of adverse reports will grow now that doctors have been warned about the correlation between breast implants and BIA-ALCL. Currently, there are 359 reports with the FDA.
Breast implants and BIA-ALCL in review
Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma is a T-cell lymphoma type of cancer found in the breasts of some women with breast implants. BIA-ALCL is a type of immune system cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although it is a completely different form of cancer, BIA-ALCL symptoms may mirror the symptoms of breast cancer. The FDA has issued a series of warnings for breast implants and even demanded label changes, outlining the dangers of BIA-ALCL. There have been 359 reported adverse events and nine deaths linked to BIA-ALCL. That number is expected to rise as more information surfaces on the link between breast implants and the deadly cancer. Breast implants are still being placed in millions of women each year, grossing billions for their manufacturers.