Is there any connection between breast implants and cancer? And if so, how serious is the risk?

Answer From Christin Harless, M.D.

Studies suggest that people who have breast implants are not at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. However, in the tissue around the breast implant, rare cancers can develop.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified a possible link between breast implants and a type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). ALCL is a rare cancer of the immune system. When it's linked to breast implants, it's called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

The FDA believes that people with breast implants that have a textured surface have a low but increased risk of developing BIA-ALCL. A textured surface is one that is rough rather than smooth. More research is needed to understand the exact connection between BIA-ALCL and breast implants.

BIA-ALCL develops next to the breast implant, within the surrounding scar tissue. It's not in the breast itself. Treatment for BIA-ALCL involves surgery to remove the implants and the cancer. Some people also need chemotherapy and radiation therapy. When found in its early stages, BIA-ALCL often can be cured.

Researchers don't know yet whether what the implant is filled with — saline or silicone — affects the risk of developing BIA-ALCL. But implants with textured 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.

Another very rare type of cancer called breast implant-associated squamous cell carcinoma (BIA-SCC) also has been linked to breast implants. Like BIA-ALCL, it forms in the scar tissue around the implant. So few cases of BIA-SCC have been reported that researchers don't yet know what raises a person's risk for getting it.

Any link between breast implants and cancer is concerning. But it's important to keep the potential risk in perspective. If you have breast implants, the low risk of getting cancer because of them is not likely to be a reason to have them removed. It's also not likely to change your treatment plan if that plan includes breast implants. Talk to your healthcare professional if you have any questions or concerns.

It's important to get routine checkups with your healthcare professional if you have breast implants. If you notice any symptoms, contact your care team right away. Symptoms may include new breast swelling or swelling that lasts, lumps, pain, skin changes, or changes in breast shape. Your care professional may suggest breast imaging, such an ultrasound or MRI, to check your breasts.

If you're considering breast implants, talk with your healthcare professional about the risks and benefits.


Christin Harless, M.D.

Women’s health topics - straight to your inbox

Get the latest information from our Mayo Clinic experts on women’s health topics, serious and complex conditions, wellness and more. Click to view a preview and subscribe below.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the email.

July 10, 2024 See more Expert Answers