The Grapevine

Breast Implant Surgery: Cancer And Other Possible Risks

Breast augmentation, a procedure where implants are placed underneath the breast tissue, is performed for many reasons. While some consider it to enhance their appearance, others may want to reconstruct their breasts if they have been affected by a medical condition or trauma.

It is important to speak to a surgeon and gain an understanding of what the procedure entails. If you are considering implants, here are a few of the risks you should know about:

Delayed healing or infection

"Shortly after surgery, most of the risks have to do with the healing process," said Clara Lee, a reconstructive surgeon at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. "The incisions could heal slower than usual, or the patient could develop an infection."

Symptoms of an infection usually involve redness, swelling, and infectious discharge. Antibiotics may be administered, Dr. Lee noted. But if there is too high a risk of complications, the patient may need to undergo surgery again and have the implants removed. 

Movement or rupture of implants

There is a chance that the implants may shift and settle into an incorrect position. In some cases, the breasts appear to be too far apart or too close together. In other cases, the implant may settle in too high or too low which causes the nipples to tip abnormally.

This may happen as a result of capsular contracture i.e. when the body creates scar tissue around the implant. Duration is another factor since aging may also lead to changes in tissue.

When discussing the risk of rupture, one must keep in mind that there are two types of implants: saline and silicone. Since saline implants are only filled with salt water, a rupture is unlikely to cause any health problem.

If a silicone implant ruptures, there is a chance of experiencing breast pain, soreness, changes in breast shape, etc. The leakage of silicone gel is relatively slow and may go unnoticed, unlike a saline rupture.

Possible risk of cancer

Back in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that breast implants were associated with a small risk of developing a rare form of cancer — anaplastic large cell lymphoma or ALCL.

On average, ALCL could take up to 10 years to develop following an implant procedure. It has been difficult to study this risk as there is limited information on patients who have received breast implants in the United States and around the world.

But based on existing research, the FDA estimates the global lifetime risk of developing breast-implant-associated ALCL could be anywhere from one in 3,817 to one in 30,000.

While women need to be informed about this possible risk, implants are still safe in the majority of cases, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief women's health correspondent. "An increased risk of a rare event is still a rare event," she said.