Is there any connection between breast implants and cancer? And if so, how serious is the risk?
Answer From Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified a possible association between breast implants and the development of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), an uncommon cancer of the immune system. The condition is now known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). The FDA believes that women with breast implants that have textured surfaces have a very low but increased risk of developing BIA-ALCL. However, that doesn't mean that these implants cause BIA-ALCL. Further research is needed to understand the relationship between the condition and breast implants.
ALCL is a cancer that can develop in any part of the body, most commonly the lymph nodes and skin. Research suggests that BIA-ALCL is usually found next to the breast implant within the surrounding scar tissue, not the breast itself. Treatment involves surgical removal of the implants and the cancer. Sometimes chemotherapy and radiation therapy are needed. When caught early, BIA-ALCL is usually curable.
Researchers haven't yet determined whether the type of implant — saline- or silicone-filled — affects the risk of developing BIA-ALCL but implants with textured silicone and polyurethane outer shells seem to have the highest risk. In women who have had breast implant reconstructive surgery with a textured implant the risk of developing BIA-ALCL might be as high as one in 355. In 2019, the FDA requested that the manufacturer Allergan recall specific models of its textured breast implants from the U.S. market due to the risk of BIA-ALCL. The recall also includes certain tissue expanders.
Any association between breast implants and cancer is concerning. Still, it's important to keep the potential risk in perspective. If you have breast implants, the findings aren't a call to change your treatment plan or to have your breast implants removed. Visit your doctor for routine checkups, and report any signs or symptoms — such as new or persistent breast swelling, lumps, pain or changes in breast shape — promptly.
If you're considering breast implants, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
Aug. 28, 2020
See more Expert Answers
- Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/breastimplants/ucm239995.htm. Accessed May 31, 2018.
- AskMayoExpert. Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (adult). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2018.
- What patients need to know: Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). The American Society of Plastic Surgeons. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/for-medical-professionals/health-policy/bia-alcl-physician-resources. Accessed May 31, 2018.
- Clemens MW, et al. Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 31, 2018.
- Nguyen MD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Accessed March 15, 2019.
- Collett DJ, et al. Current risk estimate of breast implant — Associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma in textured breast implants. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. 2019;143:30s.
- FDA takes action to protect patients from risk of certain textured breast implants; requests Allergan voluntarily recall certain breast implants and tissue expanders from market. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-takes-action-protect-patients-risk-certain-textured-breast-implants-requests-allergan. Accessed July 25, 2019.
- Questions and answers about breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/breast-implants/questions-and-answers-about-breast-implant-associated-anaplastic-large-cell-lymphoma-bia-alcl. Accessed Aug. 17, 2020.
- Cordeiro PG, et al. Risk of breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) in a cohort of 3546 women prospectively followed long term after reconstruction with textured breast implants. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.bjps.2019.11.064.