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Breast implants and cancer risk

Dr. Benny Tan  

Dr. Benny Tan is a board certified plastic surgeon specializing in breast reconstruction and revisions at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Question: I’ve heard that if I have breast implants, I have a higher risk for developing lymphoma. Is this true?

Answer: To address this question, it is necessary to provide some history. The first silicone breast implant was placed in 1962, and in 1997, the first case of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) in association with a silicone breast implant was reported. ALCL is a type of lymphoma.

Rare cases of anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) within the pocket and fluid around breast implants continue to be reported in the medical community, but the ALCL associated with implants appears to be less aggressive than systemic ALCL, which is widespread through the body.

Risk estimates range from one in 500,000 to one in 3 million women with implants. To offer some perspective, it is probably more likely to develop breast cancer (one in eight women), lung cancer (one in 16 women) or colon cancer (one in 22 women) than to develop this type of lymphoma.

The ALCL that has formed around implants is an exceedingly rare lesion, and there is no confirmed reason why this occurs. ALCL may occur in both smooth and textured implants, but data appears to suggest that it is mainly associated with aggressively textured implants.

If ALCL is diagnosed around an implant, a careful evaluation should be performed. If the fluid and scar capsule appear abnormal, recent findings suggest that removal of the implant with its capsule should be adequate. For more aggressive disease, chemotherapy with or without radiation may be required.

Once again, these are extremely rare lymphomas and there is no definite link to breast implants. Many studies are being performed currently to understand the causes of this lymphoma.

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