If you have breast implants, you might already have heard that the FDA recently connected nine deaths from a rare cancer, anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL), to those décolletage-enhancing devices.
The New York Times reported that the agency had received a total of 359 reports of this implant-related cancer. Of these cases, 231 included information on the type of implant—203 were textured, and 28 were smooth. In other words, if you have textured implants, you need to pay much closer attention. (What was inside the implants didn’t seem to make much difference. In 312 cases, the contents were reported, and of those, 186 were silicone, and 126 were saline.)
Although the cancer occurs in the breast, it’s not technically breast cancer, but a malignancy in the immune system that usually occurs in the scar tissue surrounding an implant. Normally, it’s easily treatable by removing the implant. Sometimes, chemo or radiation is required.
We asked Dr. David Rapaport, a plastic surgeon with offices on Manhattan’s Park Avenue, what we should know.
What does this news mean for women who already have breast implants?
Fortunately, the risk of developing ALCL is rare. However, it’s important for women with breast implants to know that they have an extremely low but increased risk of developing ALCL. Women who have breast implants should get regular breast checks to ensure that there is no abnormal swelling or lumps, which may be a symptom of ALCL. The FDA recommends that all women with silicone breast implants have an MRI three years after the implants are placed and every other year thereafter.
Should women who have textured breast implants be concerned?
Women with textured breast implants should be aware of the risks associated, and look out for any abnormal symptoms. Many women with implants do not get their breasts checked frequently enough; hopefully this information pushes them to make more appointments to ensure that their implants are not causing any issues.
What exactly is a “textured” breast implant and how do you know if you have one?
Textured implants have a rough exterior which feels like sandpaper. The texture gives the breast implant traction and prevents it from moving around by attaching to surrounding tissue. Smooth implants are completely smooth on the outside. Your plastic surgeon will most likely tell you what type you have. It’s almost impossible to feel the difference. However, textured implants can feel firmer, due to the thicker shell. You should make sure you get a copy of the implant cards describing your implants from your plastic surgeon when your breast augmentation is performed, photograph it, and keep it with your medical information.
What does this mean for women who want breast augmentation going forward?
It’s important for women to understand the risks associated with all implants. Smooth implants do not attach to skin, so it’s less likely that this issue will develop.
Does this support the conclusion that saline implants are safer than silicone-gel implants?
A greater number of the implants that were associated with ALCL were silicone-gel, but it was the textured surface of the implant that the FDA identified as an issue—not what was inside. Women should speak to their surgeons if they are worried about their implants or if they notice any unusual symptoms.
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