Breast implants don’t cause breast cancer. They don’t raise your chances of breast cancer, either. But research does show that women with breast implants have a higher chance of anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL).
Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is a type of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The most common symptoms are persistent swelling and a mass or pain in the area of the breast implant. These symptoms may show up years after the implants were placed. Researchers are investigating them to better understand why they happen.
If you have breast implants, your chance of developing BIA-ALCL is low. But if you have breast implants or have been thinking about getting them, there are some things you should know.
Why Are Implants Linked to Cancer?
Experts aren’t sure why breast implants raise the risk of ALCL.
FDA Labeling of Breast Implants
Because the FDA has received new information about the risks of breast implants, it has restricted who can sell and distribute them to make sure that all implants contain information to make sure that people understand the risks and can make a well-informed decision.
Before placing your implants, your doctor must go over a patient decision checklist with you to be sure you understand the risks and other information about the implants. Both you and the doctor placing your implant must sign it.
All breast implants must:
- Be labeled with a boxed warning about implant risks – this is most serious type of warning issued by the FDA
- Contain implant rupture screening recommendations
- Include a device description with a list of specific materials in the device
- Include a patient device card with the device’s serial or lot number, style and size, unique device identifier (UDI), and a toll-free phone number to contact the breast implant manufacturer
Who’s at Risk?
ALCL is a rare form of cancer. Even if you have implants, your chance of getting ALCL is very low. Experts estimate that 1 out of every 50,000 women with implants will get the disease.
Women who used textured tissue expanders (which are sometimes used during reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy) also have higher odds of ALCL. Whether your implants have silicone or saline solution doesn’t seem to matter.
What Should You Do If You Have Implants?
Talk to your doctor.
It’s important to watch for the signs of ALCL. It can show up anywhere in your body. But most women with breast implants get it near scar tissue where their implants are.
If you have implants, you should see a doctor regularly for imaging tests such as MRI or ultrasound to check them for signs of implant rupture. This screening doesn’t replace regular mammograms or other breast cancer screening tests.
Also, check your breasts regularly for:
- New swelling
- Lumps or other changes in the shape of your breast
- Pain in or near your breast that’s regular or constant
- A skin rash near your breast
- Hardening in your breast or new scar tissue
Also look for:
- Fluid collecting near your breast
- Hair loss
- Exhaustion, which can be a sign of a weak immune system
These can be signs that you have ALCL. But they can also be signs of other things like a ruptured implant. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor right away if you notice changes in your breasts.
ALCL is usually curable, especially when it’s found early. To find out if you have ALCL, a doctor will do a needle biopsy and an imaging test such as an ultrasound or mammogram. Early treatment usually involves removing the implant and any tissue that has cancer.