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Breast Implants May Be Linked to Rare Form of Cancer

By Brian Kobienia, MD, FACS on February 16, 2011


Could breast implants be a cause of cancer?  Have women of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul  and greater Minnesota put themselves at risk of cancer by choosing breast augmentation?

ALCL

An FDA review suggests that there may be a link between breast implants and a rare form of cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma, also known as ALCL.  This cancer can be found in many tissues including lymph nodes and skin.  In women with breast implants it tends to be in the scar tissue, known as a capsule, around the implant.

ALCL is a rare form of cancer.  It is found in 1 of 500,000 women in the USA per year.  Per the FDA, ALCL is found in breast tissue in only 3 out of every 100 million women nationwide without breast implants.  There are somewhere between 5 and 10 million women in the world with breast implants.

To date the FDA is aware of less than 100 cases of ALCL in women with breast implants worldwide.

Symptoms

Symptoms include lumps or masses in the breast or a collection of fluid around the implant months or years after surgery.  This fluid can be sent for cytology or the lump can be biopsied to make the diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment for ALCL of the breast implant scar may be as simple as capsule and implant removal with or without implant replacement.  Whether chemotherapy or radiation therapy are useful is unknown presently.  Consultation with a cancer specialist is recommended once the diagnosis is made.

Cause

There is speculation that the manufacturing process that creates texture on the surface of the breast implant may be a source of this disorder.  Each of the two main manufacturers of breast implants in the USA (ALLERGAN and MENTOR) have different manufacturing processes.  There may be a disproportionate number of ALCL cases linked to one manufacturer.  Data is still being collected.  It may be that this process is not a true cancer when all the facts are known.  The behavior of the tumor may suggest it is a lymphoproliferative disorder instead of a true malignancy.  More study is needed.

What Should You Do?

See your plastic surgeon if you have any new lumps or masses of the breast.  Continue to get routine mammography.  If you have a new swelling of the breast you should see your surgeon for an examination and discussion.
 

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