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Breast Cancer Patients With Implants Fare as Well as Others

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WebMD Health News

March 21, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Women with breast implants who develop breast cancer can be assured that they will fare as well as women without implants, according to a paper presented at the recent Society of Surgical Oncology meeting. But because mammography still misses some cancers in women with implants, these women should be particularly vigilant about examinations, the researchers say.

"This is probably the single largest study of breast cancer in women who have had breast implants," Kristen Skinner, MD, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, tells WebMD.

"What we found is that these women don't do any worse than women without breast implants. Their cancers don't appear to be diagnosed at any later stage. ... The women with implants don't present with tumors at a more advanced stage than those without implants. There's no evidence that augmented women present with more aggressive tumors."

Skinner and her USC colleagues analyzed records of more than 3,000 breast-cancer patients treated at California hospitals from 1981 through mid-1999. The average age of the women with implants was 46, while women without implants averaged about age 54.

They found 100 women who had breast augmentations before their diagnoses. Of those, 88 had mammograms before having biopsies. For 27 of the 88 women, mammography had failed to reveal an abnormality, a false-negative rate of 31%.

The researchers then looked at these women's outcomes during the 1980s and 1990s. The researchers found that during both decades, the patients with implants were more likely to have palpable lesions (lesions that could be felt) and therefore their cancers were more likely to be more advanced. But the likelihood of this decreased in the '90s, with better mammogram testing. And the eight-year survival rate for women with implants was similar to that of nonaugmented women (82% vs. 86%).

"We know that our ability to diagnose breast cancers early has improved over the last 20 years," Skinner says. "We've developed a technique called "implant displacement views" that allows us to see more of the breast tissue."

However, she notes, "We found that mammography still missed quite a few of these breast cancers. Mammography is very good in women who don't have breast implants; we picked up 97% of those women. But with women with breast implants, it's still suboptimal. It's something that women who are considering breast implants should think about."

Women with implants must take care to get regular physical exams and mammograms, and should be "compulsive" about performing self breast exams, Skinner advises. These women should start annual mammography at age 40. Also starting at 40, they should have a doctor conduct a breast exam when they go in for annual Pap smears.

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