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Can Breast Augmentation Trigger Cancer?

Knowing the link between breast implants and cancer

Breast Augmentation remains one of the most popular procedure for women, but the question remains: do implants cause breast cancer? (Photo Designed by Freepik)

Out of all the cosmetic surgeries that people undergo, breast augmentation remains the most sought-after procedure. Breast augmentation involves the use of breast implants or fat transfer to increase the size of the breasts. It can also restore breast volume, improving the overall shape and symmetry of the breasts.

Women undergo breast augmentation for various reasons. Most of the time, it’s to enhance not only their breast size but their body proportions as well. But more than the aesthetic outcome, breast augmentation also helps women change how they view themselves, significantly boosting confidence and improving body image.

However, no matter how well-favored breast augmentation may be, it continues to be surrounded by speculations linking it to the occurrence of breast cancer. Most risk factors that contribute to the development of the said disease are already identified; however, one question remains:

Do breast implants cause breast cancer?

According to experts, there is no substantial evidence linking breast augmentation, specifically breast implants, to the manifestation of breast cancer. However, breast implants may be related to the increased risk for the development of another type of cancer known as Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).

Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma: What is it?

While most literature would refer to it as a form of cancer, BIA-ALCL is, in any way, not breast cancer. Breast Implant-associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma is a rare type of lymphoma or cancer of the immune system.

Like breast cancer, it occurs when the cells abnormally multiply and grow into a mass, forming a tumor surrounding the implants. But the difference lies in what is being affected by cancer. BIA-ALCL usually develops in the immune system and on cells in the scar capsule that formed around the implants, and not on the breast tissues itself.

Most of the BIA-ALCL cases reported were associated with breast implants that have a textured finish. However, further studies are underway to determine whether the texture (smooth vs. textured) and type (silicone vs. saline) of implants do contribute to the development of the disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of BIA-ALCL

At present, the mechanism as to how implants can cause BIA-ALCL remains to be unknown. But there are common symptoms that women can note, which may indicate the possibility of having the disease.

 Chronic inflammation, which is a common sign of cancer, is often observed in the area around the implants. Other indicators for the disease include:

  • Pain, which may persist long after the surgical incisions have healed
  • Swelling
  • Asymmetry in the breasts, which manifests even years after having the implants
  • Formation of a detectable mass of lump around the implants

Diagnosis of BIA-ALCL involves close examination of the fluid accumulation (seroma) around the implants, which is not caused by the disease itself. Usually, there are cancer cells spotted within the scar capsule around the implants upon evaluation.

Ways to Prevent or to Avoid the Development of BIA-ALCL

BIA-ALCL can be diagnosed in 3 out of 1 million women with breast implants per year. This may somehow explain the delay in the diagnosis of the disease, taking seven to nine years before detection. 

Patients should familiarize themselves with the possible complications that may arise in using any type of implants on their breasts. (Photo Designed by Nensuria / Freepik)

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That said, plastic surgeons and patients alike are encouraged to do the following precautions to prevent, detect, or overall avoid the development of BIA-ALCL.

  1. Observe pre-operative disinfection protocol.

Since BIA-ALCL may develop from the bacteria present in the seroma within the scar capsule, it is necessary to perform methods to avoid contamination of breast implants. Both plastic surgeon and patient should follow the correct pre-surgery skin cleaning instructions provided. Likewise, patients are advised to take a shower using antibacterial foam gel before surgery. Antibiotic prophylaxis and antibiotic administration are also necessary before undergoing augmentation surgery.

  1. Utilize various techniques when placing implants into the breasts
    during surgery.

Most plastic surgeons use nipple shields while inserting the implants during augmentation surgery. This can prevent contamination of the implants through contact with breast ducts and tissues. Methods that reduce the bleeding and devascularization during surgery are likewise used. Antibiotic irrigation is also recommended.

  1. Know the benefits and possible risks of using breast implants

Breast implants are foreign objects inserted into the body. That said, it is advisable for women to familiarize themselves with the benefits, risks, and possible complications that the use of any type of implants may entail. Plastic surgeons are likewise encouraged to discuss the possible risks with their patients during initial consultation.

  1. Schedule follow up visits with the operating plastic surgeon

Having a regular check-up after augmentation surgery is necessary once the surgical incisions have healed, and even with a satisfactory outcome from the procedure. Doing so allows plastic surgeons to monitor the condition of the implants and the overall health of the patient. This also allows the early detection of complications like BIA-ALCL, despite not showing any symptoms.

  1. Monitor breasts and breast implant conditions

Plastic surgeons usually provide post-operative care to their patients following augmentation surgery and after the required follow up check-ups. Women should constantly monitor the state of their implants and report any noticeable changes such as pain, swelling, or any palpable lumps to their plastic surgeons right away.

  1. Get a breast MRI and establish a mammography screening routine.

MRI and mammograms are necessary breast
examinations whether you have implants or not. Women are encouraged to get
breast MRI and mammograms to monitor breast changes, which can potentially lead
to the development of cancer and other breast conditions. Most doctors
recommend getting examined through these methods three years after having
breast implants and every two years after thereof. 

Breast Augmentation and Women

The misconceptions and speculations surrounding the use of breast implants may somehow discourage some women from undergoing the procedure. However, many of these have no significant basis. Thus, breast augmentation through implants remains to be a safe and satisfying procedure for any woman.

Consulting with a board-certified plastic surgeon further reinforces the safeness of the procedure. Board-certified plastic surgeons have undergone extensive study and training to ensure that women who opt to enhance their breasts receive not only expert guidance and satisfying outcome but excellent patient care as well. 

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