The Risk of Breast Implants: Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)
When making any significant choice in life, it’s important to weigh the risks and rewards of your decision and find the safest path forward. This is especially true for women considering breast augmentation: Though silicone breast implants are safe for many patients, these devices have a history of causing adverse reactions in some individuals. Now, emerging evidence suggests that one type of silicone breast implant can cause a rare form of Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma known as BIA-ALCL.
What is BIA-ALCL?
BIA-ALCL is a very rare and highly treatable form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. BIA-ALCL is a not a type of breast cancer; instead, it’s a cancer that develops in the cells of the immune system.
Unlike many other forms of lymphoma, BIA-ALCL is not highly invasive. It usually develops in cells surrounding the patient’s implants (inside the capsule of scar tissue that forms around each implant) and it’s slow to spread to surrounding lymph nodes. However, like all cancers, BIA-ALCL does have the potential to spread throughout the body and produce serious illness. For this reason, it’s important to educate yourself about preventing, detecting, and treating BIA-ALCL if you’re considering breast augmentation.
How Prevalent is BIA-ALCL?
The vast majority of breast augmentation patients will never develop BIA-ALCL; to date, only just over 600 cases have been identified worldwide (out of the over 10 million women who have had breast augmentation). Your risk of developing this cancer is approximately 1 in 30,000.
Which Types of Implants are Associated with BIA-ALCL?
So far, only textured silicone gel implants have been associated with BIA-ALCL. Researchers believe that the textured surface of these implants may lead to bacterial overgrowth around the implant, increasing the patient’s risk of complications like BIA-ALCL.
Can BIA-ALCL be Prevented?
Right now, scientists aren’t sure how to completely prevent BIA-ALCL, but most cases can be avoided by choosing smooth silicone implants rather than textured implants. Saline implants also do not appear to be associated with any risk of this illness.
If you already have textured implants, the best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the early warning signs of BIA-ALCL. See your doctor or plastic surgeon as soon as you notice any unusual symptoms, including breast pain or skin irritation, swelling, breast asymmetry, lumps, or breast hardness.
How is BIA-ALCL Treated?
Most cases of BIA-ALCL are completely curable if caught early, but successful treatment requires a specialized form of breast implant removal surgery. To ensure that cancer cells remain contained and do not spread, surgeons must remove the patient’s implants “en bloc.” That is, they must remove the implants and the capsule of scar tissue around them at the same time, without cutting into the capsule. En bloc breast implant removal can prevent and cure BIA-ALCL for many patients, but in some cases, additional treatments may be necessary. Your doctor will let you know if you need to take any other steps to completely get rid of your illness.
If you’ve decided that the risk of BIA-ALCL outweighs the benefits of having breast implants, Dr. Florence Mussat can help. She’s one of the only female plastic surgeons in Chicago to offer en bloc breast implant removal, and she has extensive experience treating patients with various forms of breast implant illness. To learn more about how you can safeguard your health while also maintaining your appearance, contact Dr. Mussat to arrange a consultation.