Women with breast implants may have a reduced chance of surviving breast cancer due to impaired early detection, a new analysis of a number of studies has found.
The research, published online last week by the British Medical Journal, tentatively suggests implants make it harder to spot early stage breast cancer during routine screenings, but warns further research will be needed before any public health recommendations can be made.
The numbers, when taken by themselves, do make for startling reading.
Women with implants appeared to have a 26% increase in the risk of being diagnosed later than those women without breast implants.
An analysis of 5 studies that specifically dealt with breast cancer survival suggested a 38% higher mortality rate when compared to women without breast implants.
Researchers from Quebec University conducted this meta-analysis of 12 studies and a further 5 for a separate survival analysis, all published between 1993-2012 and involving over 1,000 women. The studies were mainly from northern Europe, the United States and Canada.
The number of papers reviewed is relatively few because there aren’t many robust studies in this field, however the team hoped to begin to answer a number of questions related to breast cancer survival rates in women who have undergone breast augmentation.
While there is a large body of evidence to support that there is no established association between breast augmentation and breast cancer (a rare form of lymphoma has been linked to breast implants, however), the research team wished to investigate inconsistencies in current research surrounding whether women with breast implants have poorer breast cancer survival rates and to what extent this can be attributed to associated difficulties in early diagnosis.
So why would breast augmentation stop early detection of breast cancer?
There are a number of factors but one key problem is that cosmetic implants, whether silicone or saline-filled, are radio-opaque and as such can create “shadows” that impair visualization of breast tissue during screenings, and even where techniques have been finessed to visualize more of the breast, a large percentage of breast tissue remains obscured, making early detection more difficult.
Early detection of all cancers is vital to provide the best possible outcomes and especially to prevent cancer’s spread.
As noted in the study, however, there is a need to be cautious about how we interpret these findings as some studies included in the meta-analysis on survival did not adjust for other factors that might have affected the results.
Also, when contextualized in real terms, the numbers are much less scary. For instance, and focusing only on the breast cancer survival rate in Canada, a national average for survival among Canadian women is, as of 2012, around 88%. With implants, the study suggests on overall survival rate of around 84%.
That’s not a major reduction in real terms, but it may be enough to give women pause when they consider whether or not to have breast implants.
Still, while noting several limitations of the meta-analysis, the researchers advise that this analysis should be followed with more research.
“The accumulating evidence suggests that women with cosmetic breast implants who develop breast cancer have an increased risk of being diagnosed as having non-localized breast tumors more frequently than do women with breast cancer who do not have implants.”
They go on to conclude, “current evidence also suggests that cosmetic breast implants adversely affect breast cancer specific survival following the diagnosis of such disease.”
It is believed that about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during the course of her lifetime. The figure is much lower for men with a man’s lifetime risk being about one in 1,000. While overall breast cancer mortality rates have steadily declined along with wider cancer mortality figures, breast cancer rates among the under 50s continue to be of concern.
While studies like the above will not speak to all women, as some would not even consider breast augmentation, most recent figures tell us that breast enhancement is the top cosmetic surgical procedure in the United States with 307,180 procedures carried out in 2011, a 4% increase on 2010 and an upward trend that shows no sign of stopping even in a difficult economic environment.
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