For years, the Food and Drug Administration has tracked reports of breast cancer. Based on the trends, the agency issued an official report in 2017 linking breast cancer and breast implants. In February 2019, officials began notifying health care professionals to look for a different type of cancer: a rare form known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Currently, reports conflict on the number of cases, as with all breast implant complications, because of flaws in the tracking and reporting system. Estimates range from 1 in 3,000 patients to 1 in 30,000. Regardless of how rare, this disease is confirmed.
The difference between breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma and other breast cancers is that this cancer forms in the scar tissue surrounding a breast implant. Furthermore, one specific type of implant seems to the culprit. Women who had received textured implants, those with a sandpaper-like coating to prevent them from shifting, made up the majority of cases. Medical officials have not verified the link but the findings are significant enough that French health regulators have recommended that surgeons not use textured implants. Other health agencies are investigating following that recommendation worldwide.
Early signs of the condition are lumps and swelling in the breasts and pain around the breast area. Although plastic surgeons perform the implants, women usually visit gynecologists or primary physicians when complications arise. This lack of communication between practitioners is one reason the FDA finds it difficult to track breast implant complications. The breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma condition is slow growing and surgeons usually remove the affected tissue along with the implant to treat it.
Since 2010, FDA officials have identified 457 cases diagnosing breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Nine of those cases resulted in patient death. Physicians or laboratory tests confirmed the diagnosis in each case. When compared to the number of women who receive breast implants, 400,000 per year, the condition is significantly rare. However, the seriousness of the condition makes it important to study and perhaps regulate the cause.
As a whole, breast implant procedures are subject to complications. Women experience puckered skin, swelling, pain, and scarring. One of the most severe complications is the rupture of the implant, as this leads to chemicals leaking throughout the woman’s body. An estimated 1 in 5 women opting for breast implants need them removed after 8 to 10 years.