FDA Tracks Rare Cancer To Breast Implants

Health officials are now warning that a rare cancer associated with breast implants have made a notable rise since 2010. Granted, only nine casualties of this cancer have been reported in that time, but federal health officials warn that this link is certainly worth further investigation.

A closer look at the numbers should help:  in the past decade, 660 breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) have been reported. Of those, 457 unique cases have been confirmed, according to the latest data from the United States Food and Drug Administration in a letter to the country’s health care providers.

The letter said, “Though the number of identified cases of BIA-ALCL is small compared to the estimated 1.5 million patients who receive breast implants worldwide every year, confirmed data and published information reviewed to date suggests that patients with breast implants have an increased risk of BIA-ALCL.”

The FDA first started looking at any potential links between breast cancer and breast implants in 2011.  At the time, however, very few cases had been confirmed and that limited the scope of the FDA’s research, restricting how the agency could advise on patient risk factors.  Combine this with a lack of data regarding how many people in the United States (and globally) get breast cancer every year and determining such risks is, indeed, quite challenging. 

The FDA’s letter continues, “In most of the cases reported to the FDA, patients were diagnosed with BIA-ALCL when they sought medical treatment for implant-related symptoms such as pain, lumps, swelling, or asymmetry that developed after their initial surgical sites were fully healed.”

All that in mind it is important to note that BIA-ALCL is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Basically, then, it is not the same thing as breast cancer, but a mass found in the scar tissue and fluid near the implant.   And this, the FDA advises, means there is no cause for concern or reason to pursue any other medical intervention than your routine medical care dictates.  

That said, this discovery will certainly become a more heated discussion in the medical community in the coming years.  For one, the topic will be introduced at the FDA’s upcoming General and Plastic Surgery Devices Panel, in March.