There are many reasons why women choose to get breast implants. Some may seek reconstruction after their breasts are removed as part of breast cancer treatment. Others may get implants to improve their self-esteem. Whether a woman is seeking to feel “normal” again or to enhance her body image, breast implant surgery carries risks like all other surgeries.
One risk of breast implants is a link to a rare type of lymphoma called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).
Recently, ALCL was found in some women with certain types of breast implants. In these cases, this rare form of cancer grows around the implant, within the capsule of scar tissue that forms after surgery. It is usually treatable and not often fatal. But what causes this type of cancer to grow here?
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What is Breast Implant-Associated ALCL?
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that involves the cells of the immune system.
ALCL is characterized by abnormal growth of T-lymphocytes, or T-cells and protein. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute, approximately 1 in 500,000 women is diagnosed with ALCL in the United States each year.
ALCL, when it happens around a breast implant, is called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). BIA-ALCL is rarer than ALCL. Approximately 359 cases have been reported out of approximately 10 million women with breast implants worldwide.
Studies have shown that BIA-ALCL is more likely to occur with textured implants, which have a rough surface, rather than with smooth implants. Textured implants are typically used because the small grooves in the implant grow into the breast capsule and prevent the implant from rotating.
How Many Cases of BIA-ALCL Have Been Reported?
When analyzing these reported cases, another factor that was considered were the contents of the implants in women with ALCL. The contents, whether silicone gel or saline, do not seem to have an effect on whether or not a woman will develop this type of lymphoma.
Research has not confirmed what exactly causes the cancer to form, but implant texturing, bacteriologic contamination, and genetic factors have been implicated and are being investigated. Bacteria identified within the capsule around the implant possibly may produce a long-term inflammatory response that may cause BIA-ALCL.
Genetic factors also may play a role. The Australia/New Zealand risk to develop BIA-ALCL appears higher than other geographic areas.
How Can Women Detect BIA-ALCL?
There are actions women can take to help detect BIA-ALCL, including:
- Completing self-breast exams to feel for abnormal lumps that could have recently developed.
- Alerting a doctor of any sudden fluid buildup, swelling, or pain.
- Assessing the incision sites for any redness, swelling, or pain.
How Is it Treated?
In many cases, removing the implant and the scar tissue (capsule) around it eliminates the disease. However, some women may need chemotherapy or radiation treatments to fully eliminate it. As with any cancer, treatment varies from woman to woman and can be more severe in some cases.
This form of lymphoma is extremely rare. However, women who have or are considering breast implants should be aware of the potential problem and the increased risk of getting BIA-ALCL with textured implants and should consult a doctor to discuss the risks and benefits of the procedure.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms relating to BIA-ALCL or need additional information, please contact the Magee-Women’s Breast Cancer Center.
You can also search and schedule with all UPMC physicians, searching by condition, specialty, provider name, or practice name, using Find a Doctor.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.