FDA confirms link between silicone implants and blood cancer

Last month, the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) confirmed a link between breast implants and a blood cancer known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

Reconstructive surgery, including the insertion of saline silicone gel implants, is popular among breast cancer survivors who have had a mastectomy, with over 50% of women electing to get breast implants. Understandably then, this news has panicked women around New Zealand and the world.

Lymphoma occurs when white bloods cells, that usually protect the body against disease, begin rapidly growing and multiplying, and the body is unable to stop them. The cells then spread throughout the body, invading organs and gathering together to form a cancerous tumour.

BIA-ALCL is a very rare type of lymphoma, with the risk of developing it being estimate at between 1-in-1000 and 1-in-10,000 for women with breast implants, according to the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). While current research does suggest that women with textured breast implants are more likely to develop lymphoma than women without implants, or women with smooth implants (the current theory is bacterial infection), the increase is only slight, and the condition remains rare.

Should I have my implants removed?

If you have implants, you do not need to get them removed as the likelihood of developing this cancer is extremely low. However, it is important to be vigilant with your routine medical care and follow-up, and to know the symptoms of BIA-ALCL that include fever, backache, painless swelling of lymph nodes, loss of appetite and fatigue. If you notice any of these symptoms, or any other changes in your breasts, show your doctor.

I have just learned that I need a double mastectomy, should I rule out synthetic breast implants?

The short answer is no. Synthetic breast implants have never been 100% risk-free and many women feel that the benefits of implants outweigh the potential disadvantages. In saying that, synthetic implants are just one avenue for breast cancer survivors. Other options include autologous reconstruction (where your own tissue is used to create the new breast), breast prostheses and going flat, the latter which is becoming an international movement.

It is important to discuss all the options with your doctor before coming to a decision about what is best for you.

You can find more information on breast reconstruction options here.

If you would like to talk to one of our breast care nurses, free-phone 0800 BC Nurse (0800 2268 773).