The Mayo Clinic and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons have both published information about a rare cancer with possible ties to breast implants as concerns continue to grow over breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL.
Initially, BIA-ALCL was thought to be a mostly European concern as the condition was generally associated with women who had received textured rather than smoothly surfaced breast implants during their procedures. American surgeons primarily use smooth surface implants, as the benefits of a textured surface were never apparent or shown to be of any significance.
The textured surface implant was created and marketed as a way of keeping the implant in place once it was positioned. However, over time that same textured surface was causing abrasions to the tissues and cells that surrounded it. Eventually those abrasions and constant injuries could cause cancerous cells to develop. The resulting cancer was a rare and very specific form of lymphoma.
The cancer can strike regardless of whether the implants were obtained for cosmetic reasons or as the result of breast reconstruction surgery for women who have undergone mastectomies. One study from South Korea examined the records of 650 post-mastectomy women who had received textured implants in their reconstructive surgeries. Of those 650 patients, 4% had some sort of cancer recurrence over the course of the next five years.
While rare, the numbers surrounding BIA-ALCL are still noteworthy. As of early 2020, some 733 cases of the cancer had been diagnosed and 36 women have died from it. The result has been a growing volume of voices within the global medical community calling for an end of the use of textured breast implants.
Even though the vast majority of cases of BIA-ALCL have been attributed to textured implants, the number of cases attributed to smooth implants is not zero. As a result, all women who have received breast implants either cosmetically or through breast reconstruction surgery are urged to follow-up with their care teams and talk to their doctors about the risk and prevention of this troubling new disease.