Cancer and Breast Implants: Is There a Connection?

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Cancer and Breast Implants: Is There a Connection?

Do breast implants cause cancer? Can you get a mammogram if you have breast implants? What happens if you receive a breast cancer diagnosis and you have implants? These are all good questions you may be asking whether you’re deciding to get breast implants or you’ve had them already for years. 

Do Breast Implants Increase the Risk of Developing Cancer?

Research does not show evidence of developing breast cancer as a result of having breast implants. However, there are some other types of cancer associated with implants. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a small number of people diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in the scar tissue of breast implants. There is also some risk of developing breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma.

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Squamous Cell Carcinoma Found in the Scar Tissue of Breast

In September of 2022, a small study reported that 20 women with breast implants were diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. The cancer developed in the scar tissue of the breast implant incision site. While this number is considered small in comparison to the millions of women who have breast implants, you should be aware of any correlation or risk of cancer so that you can make the most informed decision regarding your health. 

Common symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include skin that appears scaly, rough, thickened, and wart-like in the breast area. If you notice any changes to your skin, it’s important to report it to your doctor immediately.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Associated with Breast Implants

Some women develop breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and other rare lymphomas. If it develops, it’s usually several years after implant surgery. The cancer can develop in or around the breast surgery scar tissue or the fluid around the implant. Symptoms include skin redness on or near the breast, breast enlargement where one breast is larger, or a lump in the breast or armpit.

Implants with textured silicone (versus smooth) and polyurethane outer shells pose the highest risk of developing lymphoma. It’s important to note that BIA-ALCL can be successfully treated if found in the early stages.  

Report new changes to your breasts or skin right away. Your doctor may suggest further investigation using imaging or ultrasound to rule out cancer or other issues. 

FDA Breast Implant Regulations Due to Cancer Risk

The FDA has implemented some regulations on breast implants due to the increased risk of cancer and other health concerns. In October 2021, the FDA mandated a “black box” warning label on all breast implants that outlines the potential risks, including breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) and a variety of other symptoms associated with breast implants such as fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, etc. Additionally, the FDA requires manufacturers to sell implants only to providers who conduct a Patient Review Checklist with each patient before surgery. 

The FDA regulations ensure that all patients understand the risk and can make the most informed decision regarding health and safety.

What You Should Know if You’re Considering Breast Implants

Discussing your concerns is important so your doctor can provide insight based on your needs. Overall, the risk of developing cancer because of breast implants is low. But there are some nuances you should be aware of before your next mammogram. 

Will You Be Able to Screen for Breast Cancer With Implants?

Yes, you can, and you should continue with breast cancer screening whether you have implants or not. The exception would be women who had both breasts removed in a bilateral mastectomy followed by breast implants afterward.

There is a very low risk of them rupturing during the breast compression that’s needed to get images of the breast. Be sure you tell the breast cancer screening facility that you have implants before you are screened. 

You should be aware that both silicone and saline implants can make it hard for the doctor to see the breast tissue that is in line with them on the mammogram. This is because the implants can hide some of the breast tissue. This makes it harder to detect breast cancer. When the mammogram technician is aware of the implants, they will most likely take a few extra images of the breasts to help the radiologist see as much breast tissue as possible. Usually, two additional images per breast are needed in addition to the standard images to see if there are any areas of concern. 

While all mammograms are a bit uncomfortable due to the compression of the breasts, women with implants may have some scar tissue that makes the process more uncomfortable than it would be otherwise.

Learn more about breast cancer screening and how it can save your life or the life of someone you love.

What Happens to Breast Implants if You’re Diagnosed with Breast Cancer?

While implants aren’t a cause of breast cancer, it’s possible to develop breast cancer if you have them. In that case, you’re likely to need to have them removed for treatments to be given most effectively – even if your treatment plan does not include a mastectomy.

Keeping the implants during treatment can be painful. Plus, radiation therapy can cause them to change shape and size.

It’s possible to have implants reinserted after breast cancer treatment is complete.

Rocky Mountain Breast Specialists Encourage You to Monitor Your Breast Health

We encourage all women to monitor their breast health through regular self-exams, mammograms, and clinical breast exams. 

Related Read: Five Things You Need to Know About Your Breasts and Self-Exams

Pay attention to anything that may be different about your breasts, and know your risk factors. Some risk factors can lead to earlier breast cancer screening. Talk to your gynecologist or your primary care physician about the right time to start breast cancer screening for you.

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