This rare cancer is linked to breast implants — and it’s on the rise, researchers say

A rare form of lymphoma has been linked to a type of breast implants, and a new review in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the cancer’s incidence is likely growing.
A rare form of lymphoma has been linked to a type of breast implants, and a new review in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the cancer’s incidence is likely growing. AP/Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Breast implants are only getting more common in the U.S.

But the number of people coming down with a rare cancer linked to one kind of breast implant is growing, too. That’s according to a new review published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The cancer is called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, and it crops up in 1 in every 30,000 women who get implants each year, the review says.

“We’re seeing that this cancer is likely very underreported,” Dr. Dino Ravnic, an assistant professor of surgery at Penn State College of Medicine, said in a statement. “As more information on this type of cancer comes to light, the number of cases is likely to increase in the coming years.”

Between 5 and 10 million women worldwide have breast implants, per the review. Breast augmentation – which includes implant surgery – is the most popular cosmetic surgery in the country, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And the procedure is getting more popular.

In the last 10 years, however, 300 cases of the cancer have been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and 9 people have died. Half of those were in patients who had gotten implants after other cancer-related breast reconstruction. That led the FDA to say in March that it had found a link between the implants and the rare cancer.

“We’re still exploring the exact causes, but according to current knowledge, this cancer only really started to appear after textured implants came on the market in the 1990s,” Ravnic said.

Those implants have a surface that’s a bit rough — and while that rough texture aims to keep implants where they belong so they don’t look crooked, it could also cause inflammation in patients’ body tissue. Chronic inflammation, in turn, has been linked to the type of lymphoma Ravnic warns about in his new review, according to previous research he cites in the journal.

Just as troubling is the fact that doctors may not be talking to their patients about the risks, according to Ravnic, even as use of the textured implants has increased.

“Their use significantly increased in the 1990s,” the review says. “The first case of [the rare cancer] was documented in a 1997 article.”

The average age at which a person comes down with the cancer is 51, according to the review.

It’s a cancer of immune system cells, Allure reports — and, importantly, it’s not breast cancer: It’s actually a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Allure reports that smoother implants, not textured ones, are used in 87 percent of U.S. breast augmentation surgeries.

“The main reason many surgeons choose textured implants is because they are also shaped [rather than round],” Lara Devgan, a plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Allure.

In Europe and Australia, 90 percent of breast implants are the textured variety, according to Allure, in part because the textured exterior allows the implants to hold a more natural breast shape than their smooth counterparts.

Meanwhile, breast augmentation continues to grow in popularity.

“It caters to a very large percentage of the population, it’s one of the more readily available procedures, and the price point is affordable for many,” Dr. Daniel Maman of 740 Park Plastic Surgery told People magazine earlier this year.

The procedure can range from $5,000 to $15,000, People reports.