Media and advertising, fashion models, and movie stars make you believe that big breasts are more attractive and make you look more ‘womanly’. If you have a bigger bust size, you’re likely to impress people more. Having small breasts, or changes in your bust size especially with age, after breastfeeding or losing weight can severely harm your self-esteem; it happens to the best of us. If you’re contemplating breast augmentation surgery, you’re not alone, for it is one of the most popular plastic surgeries for women around the world.
It is, however, important that you make an informed decision about getting yourself breast implants; this is the first step towards understanding if you truly need to go through with the procedure at all. The more you know about the side effects and the cons of getting breast implants, the more confident and calm you will feel about the big change that you are about to undergo.
Yes, Breast Implants Do Cause Cancer
There is very clear evidence that getting breast implants can cause cancer of the immune system called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL). Women undergoing breast augmentation surgery faced a higher risk of developing this rare type of cancer than other women, and that women with breast implants were more likely to develop that type of cancer than other women, and that women with breast implants need access to medical treatment right away if their breasts show any signs of problems. 1
Note: Many people are often confused about breast implants causing breast cancer. This, however, is a myth. It has been proven that breast implants do not increase the risk of breast cancer; in fact, most women with breast implants have reported lower than expected risk, while some with statistically significant reductions.2
Breast implants are used in breast augmentation surgery to enhance the size and/or shape of breasts. They are made of silicone and are filled with mainly of one of two types of fluids – silicon solution or saline solution.
Silicone implants are more popular since they make your breasts look more natural after augmentation. They’re almost like a “pocket” made of silicone that is filled with silicone gel. Know that in the case of silicone implants, the size of the incision made during the surgery will depend on the size of the implants you pick, because they’re pre-filled before augmentation. When silicon gel implants rupture, it may cause inflammation and pain, or a change in the shape of the affected breast.
Saline implants, on the other hand, are filled with saline solution or salt water. These implants, when placed in your body are empty, and the surgeon fills them with the solution depending on what size you’ve selected. The incision during augmentation will be much smaller since the implants being put into your body are empty. In the case of leaks, your body is safe because the salt water liquid is similar to bodily fluids. Saline breast implants are firmer and look more unnatural in comparison to silicone.
Breast Augmentation Surgery
Breast augmentation, also called augmentation mammoplasty is the surgery conducted by plastic surgeons to place breast implants in your breasts. The surgery involves using a flap of skin over the implants to give the appearance of a natural breast.
The principal aim of these surgeries is to place implants in women who have undergone complete mastectomy or removal of breast post breast cancer, though an increasing number of women opt for breast augmentation purely for aesthetic enhancement purposes.
How Do Breast Implants Cause Cancer?
Based on a number of studies, medical specialists and doctors now recognize that getting breast implants can cause an uncommon type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) which can be fatal. It is important to note that even though ALCL occurs in the breast, it is not breast cancer; it is actually defined as a type of lymphoma – a cancer of the cells of the immune system.
ALCL usually develops in the skin, lungs, liver or lymph nodes, though it can also develop in the breast region after going through breast augmentation surgery. The risks are usually low after the first surgery, but women undergoing secondary surgery are more likely to face higher risks of ALCL.3
It usually starts as experiencing pain, lumps, swellings or asymmetry in the breasts – which can happen even years after the augmentation surgery. Breast implants are made of a material which the body considers as “foreign”. It is thus, natural for the body to form a scar tissue, also called scar capsule around the implant to protect itself from this “foreign invader”. Physicians are usually worried only if this scar tissue hardens or tightens around the implants, resulting in pain and hardness termed as “capsular contracture.” Most of the times, ALCL associated with breast implants is found in this scar capsule, not within the breast tissue itself, and has been found in women diagnosed both with and without capsular contracture.
Most women got diagnosed with breast implant-associated ALCL by extracting and testing a fluid called seroma that accumulates around the implant.4 This is, however, a possible complication of breast implant surgery and is usually not caused by ALCL.
ALCL associated with breast implants is usually called “effusions” because the cancer cells are detected within the seroma.
Symptoms Of Breast Implant-Associated ALCL
ALCL caused by breast implants shows very non-specific symptoms, as most times this cancer remains unknown to the patient unless she goes through breast ultrasonography and mammography.5 However, a few signs that one can be on the lookout for as follows:
- Swelling or pain in the breasts
- Lumps in the breast
- A change in breast size
- Hardness or capsular contracture in the breast area
Because the symptoms of breast implant-associated ALCL very rarely show up until a later stage, early diagnosis of this disease is rather difficult.
However, once you have been diagnosed with implant associated ALCL, consult your doctor to discuss what treatment options work best for you. This will depend on several factors, including:
- Type of ALCL
- Stage of the disease
- Your age and general health
The final treatment is usually tailored to meet your needs. One or more of the therapies below may be suggested to either treat the cancer or to help relieve the symptoms.
The main goals of this method are to get rid of the cancer and also to remove any antigen that may be provoking the cancer to further increase the chance of a successful treatment. There are 2 types of surgery for treating implant-associated ALCL:
- Implant removal with total capsulectomy (IRTC) is usually considered the best way to remove the ALCL-causing tumor. This includes the elimination of the tissue capsule surrounding the breast implant, where lymphoma cells may potentially exist.
- Lymph node dissection (LND) involves removing only those lymph nodes that are suspected to be involved or are found to contain ALCL cells.
Many patients require only surgical treatment to treat implant-associated ALCL. In the case of implant-associated cancers that are more difficult to treat, methods such as radiation and chemotherapy may be used.
2. Radiation Therapy
In some rare cases, radiation therapy may be involved along with surgery, if surgery alone is less likely to completely treat the cancer. When applied post-surgery, radiation therapy may bring down the chances of recurrence of the cancer in patients with advanced disease.
Once again, only in very rare cases, some patients may require chemotherapy along with surgical treatment to treat advanced or aggressive implant associated cancer.
Getting breast implants a big change for your body and it will try and warn you in case something goes awry. Paying attention to unusual changes in the shape or size of your breasts or any unusual pain should be enough to alert you to consult your doctor immediately. Also, visit your plastic surgeon often for a checkup and to keep him updated; this will help in increasing the lifespan of your implants so that you can protect yourself and enjoy the benefits of having a beautiful, healthy body.
|↑1||Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).U.S. Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑2||Deapen, Dennis. “Breast implants and breast cancer: a review of incidence, detection, mortality, and survival.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery 120, no. 7 (2007): 70S-80S.|
|↑3, ↑4||Peters, Walter. “Update on anaplastic large cell lymphoma in women with breast implants.” Plastic Surgery 22, no. 4 (2014).|
|↑5||Jarjis, Reem Dina, Lone Bak Hansen, and Steen Henrik Matzen. “The non-specific symptoms of breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma resulting in delayed diagnosis: A case-based review.” JPRAS Open 6 (2015): 1-4.|