Breast implants have been linked to more forms of cancer, according to a warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Friday.
The FDA has previously warned women of breast implants’ association with breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL), however, these reports suggest implants may be linked to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and various lymphomas as well.
“Breast implant-associated squamous cell carcinoma (BIA-SCC) is a very rare but potentially aggressive tumor that can spread to local tissues and distant sites. To date, there are only 16 reported cases of BIA-SCC, so it is difficult to determine which factors increase the risk for this disease,” Dr. Haripriya S. Ayyala, a Yale Medicine plastic and reconstructive surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, told Healthline.
It’s unclear what the risk factors are for cancer in and around breast implants. It’s also unknown what the incidence rate is, however, the FDA believes that the occurrence of these types of cancer within the breast implant capsule is rare.
“The link between breast implants and cancer, in general, is very rare fewer than 20 cases of carcinoma and fewer than 30 cases of the unexpected lymphomas [have been reported] – and it involves the capsule or scar tissue around the breast implant,” says Dr. Constance M. Chen, a board-certified plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist in New York.
According to the FDA, when breast implants were approved, there were reports of SCC and certain lymphomas in the capsule around the breast implant for smooth and textured breast implants along with saline and silicone breast implants. The patients were diagnosed years after getting the implants and experienced a range of symptoms, including swelling, pain, lumps, and skin changes. A report from 2021 found that the median age at diagnosis was 60 and the average time from implant to diagnosis was 25 years.
“These malignancies are infrequent, but breast implants are not lifetime devices and the risk of complications increases with implant age,” Ayyala said.
It’s also unknown what causes these types of cancers, but scientists suspect it may be due to chronic inflammation and irritation from the breast implant and epithelialization (part of the wound closure process) around the capsule.
BIA-ALCL is similarly found in the scar tissue near the breast implant, but it can spread throughout the body.
The risk of developing BIA-ALCL from breast implants is low, however, it can happen and be life-threatening. Patients with breast implants who develop BIA-ALCL typically need to have the implants and scar tissue removed and undergo radiation or chemotherapy.
The FDA recommends learning about the risks of breast implants, which include breast pain and changes in nipple sensation, the need for additional surgeries, rupture and deflation, and systemic symptoms.
If you already have breast implants, you do not need to change your routine medical care but you should monitor your breast implants for abnormal changes.
“The FDA does not currently recommend removal of existing breast implants in patients with no symptoms,” says Ayyala. If you experience any symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider immediately and file a report through the FDA’s MedWatch system. “People who want to get breast implants should ask about what sorts of signs to look out for if they do have breast implants, and see a doctor if they have any concerns about changes in their bodies that they think might be caused by breast implants,” Chen said.