There may be one more serious health risk associated with breast implants: a rare form of breast cancer, called anaplastic large-cell lymphoma, or ALCL. Although doctors say that there is no cause for alarm, women who are considering breast enhancement should also be aware of this new safety concern. The disease arises in scar tissue around the implant, and is treatable.
Breast enhancement surgery remains the most popular cosmetic surgery in the country; even with the recession, when cosmetic surgery was, for obvious reasons, less popular, surgeries have risen by 36% over the past ten years. Both silicone and saline implants are available, although few people choose saline because safety concerns over silicone have been alleviated after the FDA banned them pending future improvements in 1992. The ban was lifted in 2006 but the FDA lists a host of other complications:
“The need for additional operations, pain, changes in nipple and breast sensation, capsular contracture (shrinkage of a lining of scar tissue that forms around the implant, causing pain and breast hardness), rupture, and, for silicone-gel implants, migration of silicone should a rupture occur. Implants can also make it more difficult to read mammograms.”
ALCL is just one more concern; the FDA says that the risk is fairly miniscule, and should not cause women who have implants to get them removed. But it’s another reason to pause before getting cosmetic surgery, especially since many women will need more surgeries after their initial enhancement procedure. This is despite the fact that Dr. Michael McGuire, former president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, claimed, “Breast implants are the most studied device in the history of medicine. When you look at the magnitude of the studies around the world, there is just about no evidence to support many of the fears that arose in the ’90s.”
There are clearly still health risks. And although there’s no point in moralizing about whether women should or should not have such procedures, it’s clear that there are potentially serious consequences, which doctors should explain to their patients. What’s most unfortunate is that women feel that they need to undergo such risks in order to change their bodies to fit our culture’s narrow conception of beauty. It’s also ironic, given the amount of activism around breast cancer, that this hasn’t received more attention.
Photo from Flickr.