Breast Implants and Cancer: Recent Studies Investigate Possible Mechanisms Behind Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma

Published on April 3, 2017 by Laurie Villanueva

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned that women with  breast implants may be more likely to develop anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare form of blood cancer. Two studies published in the last year may help explain why.

The first, which appeared in the March 2016 issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, suggested that chronic inflammation could  contribute to the development of ALCL. This is not surprising, as chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in many forms of cancer.

The second study, which was published in June by Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, indicated that an immune response to bacterial colonization around the breast implant could also trigger onset of the disease.

“This novel finding of bacterial biofilm and a distinct microbiome in breast implant–associated ALCL samples points to a possible infectious contributing cause,” the authors of that study wrote. “Breast implants are widely used in both reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, and strategies to reduce their contamination should be more widely studied and practiced.”

FDA Breast Implant Warning

ALCL is rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that can appear in the skin, lymph nodes or other organs of the body. However, late last month, the FDA warned that 359 women had developed the cancer in the cells around their breast implants, nine of whom died. The agency now estimates that the disease will affect about in 1 in 300,000 women with the devices.

The majority (200) of the ALCL reports involved beast implants with textured surfaces, while just 28 cases were reported with smooth surfaces implants. The remaining reports did not note surface type. Of the 312 reports that included mention of fill type, 186 reported saline gel, while 126 reported implants filled with saline.

Fortunately, ALCL is a slow-growing cancer. According to The New York Times, removal of their breast implants eliminated the disease in many women who did develop ALCL. However, there have also been cases were chemotherapy and radiation were needed.

The FDA is recommending that breast implant patients continue to following their doctors’ instructions in regards to monitoring. Routine mammogram screenings with a technician who has been specifically trained to perform the test on breast implant patients is also advised. Most importantly, women who have undergone breast augmentation or reconstruction should inform their physician if they notice any changes or problems affecting their implants.

Women considering breast implant surgery should discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure with their doctor.

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