Q. I just heard that you can have cancer from breast implants. Is that true?
A. There is a type of cancer associated with breast implants, but breast cancer is not associated with higher rates due to the implants. If this sounds confusing, let me explain.
Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) is a non-breast cancer that is associated with a specific type of breast implant. Breast implants come in different sizes and shapes, and they’re made up of different materials.
While many people think silicone was a major factor in the many problems women faced with implants, almost all implants have silicone. Even saline implants have a silicone cover.
Later studies confirmed that silicone did not pose significant problems, although this is a controversial topic. In 2011, the FDA identified a possible association between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). BIA-ALCL is not a breast cancer. Rather, it is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or cancer of the immune system, the FDA says.
The lymphoma develops with textured implants. Implants may be smooth or textured. Plastic surgeons use textured implants to prevent movement and to get better implantation. Some implant recipients say textured implants feel more natural. Regardless of why they are used, they are the implants connected to lymphoma.
So, the first thing to determine is if you have anything that is concerning. Typically, a patient will develop swelling after many years of having an implant. In addition, the person may have pain or discomfort with the swelling.
If the swelling persists, your physician can remove some fluid and determine if you have lymphoma. If this is the case, removing the implant and removing the capsule will often be curative.
If you do not have any of the symptoms and you do not know what type of implant you have, then call your doctor and ask him or her. Since you have a relationship with your plastic surgeon, she or he can advise you as to your next step.
Carlos Wolf is a clinical assistant professor at FIU Herbert Wertheim School of Medicine and a partner in Miami Plastic Surgery. Follow him on Instagram @Carloswolfmd.