The Grapevine

Breast Implants Warning: More Cancer Cases Linked, FDA Reports

More women in the United States have been reported to have a rare form of cancer linked to breast implants, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The cancer is known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma or BIA-ALCL.

According to its statement, 457 unique cases of this cancer were said to have been identified since 2010 while at least nine patients have died over the same period. It should be noted that this is a small number compared to the estimated 1.5 million patients who receive breast implants worldwide every year, with 400,000 of them being in the U.S.

Nevertheless, this elevated cancer risk is a concern and something people should be informed about when they are considering breast implants. BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer but a type of cancer of the immune system which forms in the scar tissue near the implants.

It seemed that most of the cases have occurred among women who opted for textured breast implants. But we do not know how strong this link is since many of the patients did not specify the texture type.

Letters were sent out to doctors and other healthcare providers to raise awareness about the risk. "When breast implants are placed in the body, they are inserted behind the breast tissue or under the chest muscle," the letter explained.

"Over time, a fibrous scar called a capsule develops around the implant, separating it from the rest of the breast. In patients with breast implants, reported cases of BIA-ALCL were generally found adjacent to the implant itself and contained within the fibrous capsule."

Since it grows gradually, the cancer can be treated if it is detected early. To make sure there are no delays, laboratory testing is recommended by the FDA in cases where BIA-ALCL is suspected — this may involve symptoms such as new breast swelling, changes in the shape of the breasts, lumps, or pain around breast implants.

"We hope that this information prompts providers and patients to have important, informed conversations about breast implants," Dr. Binita Ashar, a general surgeon and the director of the Division of Surgical Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in the press statement.

Women who have implants may be instructed to opt for routine mammography screenings. In the case of silicone implants, magnetic resonance imaging screenings can help in detecting silent ruptures i.e. when the rupture does not cause any signs or symptoms.

In the online resources provided by the FDA, this screening is recommended three years after the surgery and every two years after that. The agency is also expected to review the safety of all breast implants in a meeting next month.