Patient Education

Healthclicks Newsletters

Cancer Awareness

July 2013

Breast Implants May Hinder Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Plastic surgery is becoming more popular, with the most common procedure now breast augmentation, or enlargement. Contrary to what you may think, women with breast implants aren't immune to breast cancer. In fact, a recent study suggests they may be more likely to be diagnosed with later-stage disease.

Implants and breast cancer

In the U.S., women thinking about an increase in breast size have two implant options. They can choose an implant that's filled with either saline-a salt water solution-or silicone gel. Both types are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Photo of woman outdoors, with a pensive look, holding a mug of coffee

The FDA monitors the safety and effectiveness of breast implants. To date, the FDA considers them safe to use. What's more, past research has found no link between implants and breast cancer. One study followed approximately 6,200 women with breast implants for more than 25 years. Researchers concluded that implants did not increase a woman's risk for the disease.

Although implants may not lead to breast cancer, they may impede diagnosis. In the British Medical Journal, researchers reviewed the results of more than 22 studies on implants and breast cancer. They found that women with implants tended to be diagnosed with cancer that had already spread to other parts of the body, making it harder to treat. Why? Researchers suspect ineffective mammograms.

Special considerations for imaging

Women with breast implants are encouraged to follow the same guidelines for breast cancer screening as women without implants. But their mammogram results may not be completely accurate. The saline or silicone gel inside of an implant can interfere with the X-rays used during the test. The result: Breast tissue beneath an implant may not be seen, hiding any abnormalities.

If you have breast implants and need a mammogram, tell the technician about your implants. Compared with women without them, you'll need two additional images taken of each breast. These images are called implant displacement views. To obtain them, the technician will position the implants for a better view of your breast tissue.

Along with regular mammograms, pay close attention to your breasts. If you notice any changes, talk with your doctor right away. Implants may not be a cause of breast cancer, but they aren't risk free.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Know These Facts Before Breast Implants

Considering breast implant surgery? Don't rush into it. Talk with your doctor about the potential risks. Below are some key facts you should know:

  • Breast implants don't last a lifetime. At some point, you will likely have to remove or replace your implants.

  • Women with breast implants may experience pain, scar tissue, and ruptures. Additional surgeries are not uncommon. These complications are more likely the longer you have implants.

  • Silicone implants may rupture without any symptoms. To detect any problems, experts recommend regular screenings with MRI.

  • Breast implants may slightly increase your risk for anaplastic large-cell lymphoma (ALCL)-a rare kind of cancer. ALCL may attack breast tissue, but it isn't breast cancer.

Learn more about breast enlargement surgery here.

Online Resources

American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery - Breast Implants

American Society of Plastic Surgeons – Breast Augmentation

FDA – Breast Implants

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