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) identified a possible link between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), an uncommon cancer of the immune system. When this cancer occurs, it is called 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. 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. BIA-ALCL is a subtype of ALCL that is 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 found in its early stages, BIA-ALCL often can be cured.
Researchers haven't yet determined whether the implant fill — saline or silicone — affects the risk of developing BIA-ALCL. But implants with textured silicone and polyurethane outer shells seem to have the highest risk. 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. Other implant manufacturers continue to have textured breast implants available.
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 have them removed or to change your treatment plan if it includes breast implants. Visit your health care provider for routine checkups. Report any signs or symptoms — such as new or persistent breast swelling, lumps, pain or changes in breast shape — promptly. Your provider may suggest breast imaging, such a breast MRI or breast ultrasound, to evaluate new symptoms.
If you're considering breast implants, discuss the risks and benefits with your health care provider.
Aug. 09, 2022
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 July 20, 2022.
- 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.