Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA issued a press release announcing that a number of cases of a rare cancer had been linked with breast implants
The cancer, known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), is not actually a breast cancer, but rather a type of immune system cancer, and has been known to occur in women who have been through reconstructive or cosmetic breast surgery using implants. The FDA went on to say that the disease is most likely to occur in women who have textured, rather than smooth implants.
Is this something we should be concerned about? And what can be done about it?
How does the disease develop?
The cancer itself grows in the breast or scar tissue surrounding the implant, and research is still ongoing to determine the exact cause of the disease. Theories include bacterial contamination, long-term allergic inflammation, implant texturing and genetic disposition.
How common is the disease?
It’s important to note that ALCL is rare. In fact — just one in 30 000 women with textured breast implants may develop the disease, and fortunately it is, in most cases, usually treatable.
Another important factor to bear in mind is that breast implants are generally very safe — they are very closely studied in the field of medicine, and textured implants (with which the disease is most often associated) only make up a portion of the total number of implants that are available. In fact, smooth implants are much more common in modern cosmetic breast procedures and make up the majority of implants that are currently used. According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the lifetime risk of developing ALCL with a smooth-only implant is zero, as there are no reported cases to date of the disease developing in patients exposed to smooth implants.
What are the symptoms?
Of course, even though ALCL is a rare disease, it’s important to be informed about the symptoms if you undergo breast implant surgery. Being aware of the signs of the illness will help us to diagnose and treat the disease as early as possible, should it develop.
The most common symptom is a build-up of fluid around the implant, which can lead to swelling and discomfort, as well as lumps that develop in the breast or armpit. Swelling has been reported to occur between two and 28 years after the placement of an implant, with an average of eight years following surgery. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to come in for a check-up as soon as possible. The FDA recommends, however, that asymptomatic women without breast changes do not require more than their routine follow-ups. So, if you haven’t noticed any swelling or pain, there is no need to worry.
How can it be treated?
Fortunately, ALCL can almost always be cured by removing the breast implant. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, it may be necessary to undergo further treatment, but according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, most patients who received treatment were disease-free within three years when the condition was detected and treated early.
Of course, the decision to undergo any reconstructive or cosmetic breast surgery is a complex and personal one. Mr David Morgan is available to answer any questions you might have and is happy to discuss any of your concerns with you. All surgery entails a degree of risk, and you should not make any decision regarding surgery without careful consideration.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.