Breast Implants and Cancer Risk
Dr. Craft is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon 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: Controversy over a link between breast implants and cancer was reignited recently when the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) warned women of a possible connection to a very rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). This type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops when certain types of white blood cells in the immune system grow abnormally.
That breast implants could be linked to cancer is understandably concerning, but women should keep in mind that this particular cancer risk is incredibly low. As many as 10 million women have breast implants, yet the medical community is aware of only 34 confirmed cases of ALCL in these women worldwide since 1989. To provide additional perspective, about 288,000 U.S. women are diagnosed annually with breast cancer, 12,000 with cervical cancer, and 22,000 with ovarian cancer, respectively.
The prevalence of ALCL in women with breast implants is so low that the FDA has been unable to conclude that a definitive link exists and has asked doctors to continue tracking cases. Overall, women considering implants should know that there may be an increased risk of developing ALCL but that this risk is very minimal. Also, it is not possible currently to determine if a specific type of implant presents a higher or lower risk of ALCL.
As with any medical procedure, gathering as much information as possible beforehand is important, even when the procedure is cosmetic. While the FDA is continuing to evaluate the potential link between implants and ALCL, it may be several years before anything is known for certain. For now, women with or without breast implants should continue monthly breast self-examinations and report any unusual symptoms to their doctors.