A new study backs what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted consumers to last year – that breast implants are associated with a small increased risk of rare type of cancer. But the study suggests the risk is higher than reported.
The study, published in JAMA Oncology, found that about one in 7,000 women with breast implants develop a rare form of lymphoma called breast implant-associated anapestic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL. The cancer develops in a capsule of tissue and fluid that forms around the implant. It’s a slow-growing cancer, with the median diagnosis occurring 13 years after implant surgery.
In March 2017, the FDA issued a Safety Communication about the risk, saying it had received 359 reports of possible BIA-ALCL, but the exact number is likely higher as it “remains difficult to determine due to significant limitations in world-wide report and lack of global implant sales data.” Of the 231 reports the FDA received that had detailed information, 203 of the cases involved textured breast implants. The remaining 28 had smooth surfaces. BIA-ALCL has been reported with both saline and silicone gel implants.
It is unclear what causes this rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma to form. Areas of ongoing research include chronic inflammation, bacterial contamination, severe capsular contracture and trauma to the breast.
When BIA-ALCL is identified, it is most frequently found in patients who have undergone implant revision operations for late onset, persistent serum (a collection of fluid that builds up under the surface of the skin) generally occurring after a surgical procedure where an incision was made or tissue was removed. Symptoms generally occur one year to 10 years or longer after implantation surgery.
People with breast implants who experience any changes in their breasts, including sudden swelling or a lump, should contact their doctors to determine if subsequent testing is necessary.
Most people diagnosed with BIA-ALCL are successfully treated by removing the breast implant and scar tissue. However, if the cancer has infiltrated the scar tissue, or a lump is found, further treatment may be recommended. In some cases, BIA-ALCL has spread beyond the scar tissue. In rare cases, it has led to death.