Just last week, federal heath regulators confirmed a link between breast implants and a rare type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). However, cancer is just one of the potential complications patients should be aware of if they are considering breast augmentation or reconstruction.
In a recent interview with Health.com, Dr. Clara Lee, a reconstructive surgeon at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, detailed the types of issues breast implant recipients might experience at various points post-surgery.
Early on, the most serious risks involve issues with healing.
“The incisions could heal slower than usual, or the patient could develop an infection,” Dr. Lee said.
During the first year, breast implant patients should be on the lookout for implant malposition, when the device isn’t sitting correctly within the breast. Rippling of the implant, which might be noticed beneath the skin, is also a concern.
Implant leaking and capsular contracture may occur within the first several years of surgery. A leaking silicone breast implant could be noticeable right away, but many women only experience a small puncture that isn’t immediately apparent. Capsular contracture occurs when a layer of scar tissue forms around the implant. This causes the breast to shrink and feel too hard or firm. Leakage and capsular contracture continue to be a concern five to 10 years post-op.
Last week, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned that 359 breast implant patients had developed ALCL, a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, in the cells around their implant. Nine had died.
“The cancer seems to be slow-growing, and most of the women had the tumor removed and treated,” Dr. Lee told Health.com. “But there are enough cases now, in addition to deaths, that the FDA issued this warning.”
ALCL is estimated to affect in 1 in 300,000 women with breast implants. According to the FDA, it appears that the disease is more likely to occur with textured implants compared to those with smooth surfaces. The cancer has been seen in patients with both silicone gel and saline devices. Breast implant patients should let their doctor know if they experience any possible cancer symptoms, including: hardness, swelling, redness or pain in the breast.
“Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to monitor your breast implants. If you notice any changes, contact your health care provider promptly to schedule an appointment,” the FDA advised. “Get routine mammography screening and ask for a technologist specifically trained in performing mammograms on patients with breast implants.”
Bloomberg News reported earlier this year that two new lawsuits had been filed on behalf of women who were allegedly sickened by Mentor’s MemoryGel breast implants. Both complaints claim that leaking silicone caused the plaintiffs to experience a range of debilitating symptoms and ailments, including nausea, skin rashes, extreme fatigue and high levels of heavy metals in the bloodstream. The women further claim that Mentor failed to provide patients and doctors with adequate warnings regarding the risks associated with MemoryGel implants, and assert that the company never subjected the devices to proper testing as mandated by the FDA.
An attorney for one of the women told Bloomberg that the filings could be just the “tip of the iceberg,” and claimed that Mentor’s silicone breast implants may have caused illness in thousands of women.
Mentor is one of three device makers that have been authorized to market silicone breast implants since the FDA lifted restrictions on the devices in 2006. The other companies include Allergan Plc, and Sientra Inc.