National Plastic Surgery Day: Do silicone implants increase risk of breast cancer?

Silicone breast implants are medical devices filled with silicone gel that is implanted under the breast tissue or muscle of the chest to either increase breast size or help reconstruct the breast. They are fast gaining popularity among women worldwide. But, are these safe, or do they put one at a greater risk of breast cancer?

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As we observe National Plastic Surgery Day — which was accepted as World Plastic Surgery Day last year — today, let’s learn about the possible health implications of getting breast implants.

Calling it an extremely common procedure with three lakh implants done in the US alone every year, Dr Richie Gupta, Director and HOD Plastic Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, said “These are done in cases where there is a requirement for cosmetic augmentation, such as in cases of loss like surgery for breast cancer after which the patient wants reconstruction of the breast. It’s also done in cases where there is a hypoplasia of the breast, which is poor breast development since birth. It is very commonly done as part of gender confirmation surgery or sex change surgery in trans women.”

But, before understanding how safe the breast implant procedure is, one must know the two common types of implants — saline-filled implants and silicon-filled implants. “The surface of the implants is generally of two types: smooth surface and textured surface implants,” Dr Gupta added.

Despite various studies pointing out the link between breast implants and ALCL, it is still considered a safe procedure (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Quoting the US FDA’s 2011 study which found that “some types of implant-associated cancer are occurring”, the expert noted, “This implant-associated cancer is different from conventional breast cancer in the sense that it is not a cancer of the breast; it is lymphoma. Hence, it’s different. In 2020, it was noted that 733 cases of breast implant-associated ALCL (anaplastic large-cell lymphoma) have occurred worldwide.”

For the unversed, ALCL is a type of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system and gets stronger in the blood cells, WebMD states.

However, despite various studies pointing out the link between breast implants and ALCL, it is still considered a safe procedure as “it is found that breast implant-associated ALCL (BIA ALCL) occurs normally in the textured type of implants”. “Whether the implant is filled with silicone or saline, it does not matter,” she added.

The expert suggested consulting a doctor in case of swelling and persisting pain after the breast implant surgery. “The doctor will usually order an ultrasound or an MRI which can diagnose a peri-implant collection. And once this is there, then there is suspicion that it may be BIA ALCL. Now, if treated early, then the prognosis is good. There’s more than 80 per cent to 90 per cent survival rate in BIA ALCL.”

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