[Originally published: July 30, 2019. Updated: Sept. 22, 2022.]
What’s the relationship between breast implants and cancer risk? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a safety warning about certain cancers that may develop in scar tissue that forms around implants.
Although the cancers appear to be rare, they have occurred in all types of implants, including those filled with saline or silicone and those that are textured or smooth. To date, the FDA says it is aware of fewer than 20 cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and fewer than 30 cases of various lymphomas in the capsule—the fibrous scar tissue that forms around the implant and keeps it in place.
This is not the first time the FDA has raised concerns about breast implants and cancer. In 2019, the agency recalled a type of implant with a textured surface—BIOCELL, manufactured by Allergan. The FDA acted after reports of 573 cases of cancer and 33 deaths worldwide from a rare lymphoma—different from the types most recently being reported—that were associated with these breast implants.
Known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), the cancer is a rare T-cell type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that is not breast cancer, but rather a cancer of the immune system. That news had many women who had breast reconstruction after a mastectomy or cosmetic breast augmentation concerned about their health.
Allergan recalled those implants worldwide, and they are no longer in use. The company also recalled tissue expanders, sometimes used in a first-stage operation to make room in the chest wall for the implant.
At this time, there have been no recalls in relation to the latest cancer findings, but the FDA is encouraging women who have breast implants or are considering them to educate themselves about their risks and benefits.
What should you do if you have breast implants?
Here are some tips to keep in mind for women who have breast implants:
- Look for symptoms. The FDA does not recommend removal of breast implants for patients who have no symptoms. But if women do notice symptoms, which can include swelling, pain, lumps, or skin changes, or any abnormal changes in their breasts or implants, they should promptly talk to their surgeon or another health care provider.
Henry Hsia, MD, a Yale Medicine plastic surgeon, strongly advises that no matter what kind of implant a person has, it’s important to be “breast aware” and report any persistent symptoms to your doctor. “Anyone with pain or discomfort or other concerning changes in her breasts should get in touch with her plastic surgeon,” he says.
- Report problems. If you have breast implants and you are experiencing problems or symptoms, file a report through MedWatch, the FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting program. Your report, as well as those from others, can help improve patient safety.
- Keep your serial number. Keep the manufacturer serial number information provided by your plastic surgeon at the time of reconstruction or augmentation, including the device manufacturer name, unique device identifier, and implant model name. That way, if there’s ever a recall or health concern surrounding the type of implant you have, you can make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options, if necessary.