New Studies Shed Light on Breast Implants’ Risk for Causing Cancer
Last March, in the wake of an FDA update on breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) — and the ensuing media firestorm — we dissected the facts and figures surrounding the disease to contextualize the actual risk breast implants may pose.
To recap, BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer. It’s an extremely rare type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a cancer of the cells of the immune system — that can affect those possessing both a genetic predisposition and textured breast implants. (Unlike smooth-shelled implants, textured ones have an irregular surface that acts like Velcro, which helps keep them from changing position.) While researchers don’t fully understand the link between implants and BIA-ALCL, “we believe the disease arises as a result of a long-term inflammatory reaction to probable bacterial contamination, particularly in the presence of textured implants, which present more interstices for bacterial adhesion,” explains Adam Kolker, an associate clinical professor of surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. Simply put: the nooks and crannies comprising textured shells can be ripe for germ colonization.
While doctors and patients in the U.S. overwhelmingly prefer the natural feel of smooth implants — they’re used in 87 percent of surgeries — textured implants do offer distinct advantages for certain people. “The main reason many surgeons choose textured implants is because they are also shaped [rather than round],” says Lara Devgan, an attending plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Infirmary. With a teardrop appearance that mimics the silhouette of a natural breast, shaped implants only come with clingy textured shells, because “even a small degree of rotation can cause them to look askew,” she adds. They can be preferable in breast-reconstruction surgeries following mastectomies, as they give form where there is none, and they’re often used to “correct size and shape deformities,” says Kolker. They’re also beloved abroad, being used in 90 percent of augmentation cases in Europe and Australia.