FDA Says Certain Breast Implants Have a Possible Link to Cancer

July 18, 2017

A woman was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) which was potentially caused by breast implants. Stacey Boone was told she had the flu until she started having non-flu like symptoms. These symptoms included an egg-sized lump on her collarbone and the loss of over 40 pounds--both signs of ALCL.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating a possible link between breast implants and this rare kind of cancer. Since February 1, 2017, there have been 359 women with ALCL including nine women that have died.

In 2016, nearly 550,000 women underwent breast augmentation making it the most popular cosmetic procedure in the U.S. The FDA states, "The women with breast implants have a very low but increased risk of developing ALCL compared to women who do not have breast implants.”

Boone underwent breast augmentation in 1990 but did not know the difference between textured implants and smooth implants. Textured implants were made so they would not move around as much inside the breast and it reduces the risk of capsular contracture, which is a common complication with smooth implants leaving the breast hard or misshapen.

In the U.S. the textured breast implants make up about 13% of the market. Dr. Mark Clemens, associate professor of plastic surgery at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says the risk of developing ALCL in the breast is 67 times higher for a person with textured breast implants compared to the general public. Even though the number sounds high, it is still very rare. The lifetime risk is 1 in 30,000 for U.S. women.  

"This is a type of lymphoma. It is not a breast cancer. It's actually a cancer that develops in the scar tissue around a breast implant," Dr. Clemens continues.

In 2013, Boone noticed her left breast grew larger in size and it became hard and hot to the touch. She also felt a large lump in her clavicle area. Surprisingly, she was treated for the flu and took antibiotics for three months. Obviously, this did not work and she kept losing weight. Her weight went from 140 pounds to 98 pounds.

Early 2015, Boone’s sister, who is an ultrasound tech, did a scan and found four lumps under her arm. The next day, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Boone underwent four, 6-week rounds of chemotherapy, plus a stem cell transplant. She lost both of her breasts and she came very close to dying. Fortunately, Boone is thriving today and has regained her strength. She struggled walking from hospital room to hospital room; now she is walking five miles a day!

It is still somewhat unclear as to why textured breast implants can increase the risk of cancer, but there are some theories. One, it may be due to their textured material, as it can cause abrasion to the inside of the breast, potentially leading the body’s immune system to develop the disease. Another theory is some people could be more genetically susceptible to ALCL. There could also be a small amount of bacteria on the surface of the textured implants which can irritate the inside of the breast, and given many years, this could develop into ALCL.

Doctors strongly recommend women, with or without breast implants, to get checked regularly.

Check out the video to learn more about ALCL: