Surging Breast Implant Lymphoma Reports Cast Doubt on “Rare” Characterization

Published on January 24, 2020 by Laurie Villanueva

Reports of lymphoma associated with certain textured breast implants are increasing at an alarming rate, suggesting the slow-growing cancer can no longer be considered rare.

According to CBC News, Health Canada had received 106 confirmed or suspected reports of breast implant-associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) as of December 29, 2019. The cases included 52 reported since May, double the 26 confirmed reports the regulator had received up until that point.

“Two incident reports received after May 28, 2019 cite the outcome of death suspected to be associated with BIA-ALCL but those have yet to be confirmed,” Health Canada said in an email to CBC.

Is BIA-ALCL Far More Prevelant than Official Data Suggests?

Dr. Peter Cordeiro, a reconstructive breast surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, recently reported that his own review of patient files dating back to 1992 suggested breast implant lymphoma was 10 times more prevalent than the official statistics suggest.

“What’s been the experience of 3,546 patients?” Cordeira said at the 1st World Consensus Conference on BIA-ALCL in Rome last October. “Ten now have BIA-ALCL. I’ve submitted this data for publication, but I can tell you, I’ve had one more patient since.”

Yet Health Canada and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) continue to state that BIA-ALCL is “rare”, a characterization that could be placing textured breast implant recipients at risk.

“We have women in Canada presenting symptoms to their physician, and the physician is telling them that they don’t have cancer and … that they should get on with their lives because of the word rare,” one breast implant lymphoma survivor told CBC News.

What is Breast Implant Lymphoma?

BIA-ALCL is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that occurs in the tissue surrounding breast implants. Symptoms typically include:

  • Lumps
  • Swelling in the breast
  • Asymmetry around the breast implant after the surgical site fully heals
  • Pain around the breast implant

The FDA has been investigating BIA-ALCL since 2011, and was already aware that the majority of cases had occurred in women with textured breast implants. Last summer, however, the agency disclosed that Allergan Biocell textured breast implants had been implicated in 80% of BIA-ALCL reports, as well as 12 of the 13 fatalities in which a manufacturer was identified.

Allergan eventually conducted a global breast implant recall following a request from the FDA.

While Biocell textured breast implants are no longer available for sale in the United States or Canada, women with the devices have been advised to leave them in placed unless they actually develop the lymphoma, as removal could be risky.

Instead, they should continue with regular medical follow-up and notify their doctor immediately if they notice any changes in their breasts.

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