Breast implants and cancer. Is there a connection?

Reports of breast implants being linked to cancer linked to breast implants is nothing new. Yet recent studies carried out in France and the USA, as well as those carried out by the Guardian in the UK, seem to confirm this hypothesis. Textured implants (implants with rough surfaces), which have been widely used since the 1990s because they are known to be better tolerated than smooth implants, pose the greatest risk. Millions of women throughout the world have textured implants and many surgeons have decided to suspend their use until further research can be done. In any case, it will take years before studies offer reliable results. For now, it is suspected that textured breast implants are linked to a rare form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).

How breast implants are linked to cancer 

According to research, implants can cause chronic inflammation around the implant, leading to the development of a lymphoma. More specifically, the implants are placed above the chest muscles and beneath the mammary glands. The body recognizes the implant as a foreign body and activates the immune system, producing an inflammatory response. As a result, a hard capsule of scar tissue develops around the entire implant. In very rare cases, an anaplastic large-cell lymphoma can form in the space between the scar and the implant. Cancer cells may remain “trapped” in this space or may spread to other parts of the body, creating a more dangerous situation. If the cells remain trapped, the lymphoma can be completely eliminated by removing the implant and the entire capsule of scar tissue around it.

Early diagnosis is fundamental

Unfortunately, not all symptoms are given due attention, leading to a delay in the diagnosis of a lymphoma.  If the cancer then spreads, patients may require more aggressive treatments like chemotherapy. Early diagnosis is fundamental in order to avoid invasive treatments. The first symptom is usually the abnormal swelling of the breast accompanied by dull pain that becomes more acute in certain positions or movements. There is currently no reliable record of how widespread the problem is or what the risk factors are.  One reason it is difficult to establish a precise link between breast implants and cancer is that this type of tumor is not easily detected. As we gain more knowledge about this disease, more cases will be detected, making it easier to offer an overview of the situation.  

The present situation

ALCL cancer was first detected in the 1990s when textured implants appeared on the market. The first case of ALCL was diagnosed in 1997. As of yet, not one case of ALCL has been reported in patients with smooth implants. Symptoms appear on average 6-7 years after implant surgery, but can appear anywhere from 1-22 years after. Ministries of Health throughout Europe, including Italy, have joined forces in the last few years to monitor the situation and obtain more reliable statistics. Gathering reliable data is fundamental in carrying out research. As of yet, thirty cases of ALCL have been reported in Italy, with an incidence of 2.8 cases per 100,000 patients. The percentage of cases is small, but enough to concern the great number of women who have textured implants. The main implant manufacturers of textured implants have become involved in researching alternative materials to eliminate this risk. Meanwhile, we must carefully monitor the emergence of new cases. 

© Domedica s.r.l.

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