Breast implants & cancer risk

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.

According to current data available at the time of writing this article, any woman with breast implants has approximately a life time risk of 1 in 30,000 to develop breast implant associated anaplastic large cell lymphomas. To offer some perspective, it is probably more likely to develop breast cancer (one in eight women), lung cancer (one in sixteen women) or colon cancer (one in twenty two 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.