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Breast Implant Illness

Breast implants have been a popular choice in cosmetic surgery since the 1960s, changing lives for hundreds of thousands of women around the world.  While breast implants are considered very safe, scientists continue to research any correlation between breast implants and illness.

What illnesses have been associated with breast implants?

Few medical devices have undergone the scrutiny and testing that breast implants have. However, there have been reports of patients with breast cancer suffering from the following illnesses.

  • Cancer
  • Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL)
  • Connective Tissue Disease
  • Mental Health
  • Neurologic Disease
  • Offspring Effects

Cancer and breast implants

While there has been extensive data refuting any connection between breast implants and cancer, the stigma lingers. In 1999, a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer said there was evidence to support a lack of breast carcinogenicity in women with silicone breast implants. Ultimately, no evidence was discovered linking silicone implants to breast cancer, later confirmed by a 2016 study.

Studies and breast implant illness

However, a study in 2018 revealed that patients with Mentor brand silicone breast implants were 1.54 more times likely to receive a cancer diagnosis than the general population. The discovery was later attributed to a lack of diagnosis validation and selection bias. It is also crucial to remember that there is often a difference in demographics, lifestyle, and reproductive characteristics among patients with breast implants than the general population. It’s a classic example of correlation does not equal causation. Similarly, there was a link between patients with breast implants and increased lung cancer, which was then attributed to there also being an increase of smokers among those with breast implants.

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma and breast implants

Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) is a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The first case of breast implant-associated ALCL (BIA-ALCL) was in 1997, and in 2018, it was reported that there had been over 414 cases of BIA-ALCL since 2008, resulting in 9 deaths. Half of the patients in these cases had also undergone breast reconstruction surgery after breast cancer. While there is a link between breast implants and BIA-ALCL, the cause is not yet firmly established through research. In all of the cases of BIA-ALCL except two, the patients had textured implants.

ALCL and textured implants: FDA recall.

The link between textured implants and cancer risk has recently come back to the surface as Allergan has issued a voluntary recall in July 2019 for their BIOCELL textured implants and tissue expanders. Textured implants have been banned in France and Canada, and the FDA advised Allergen to recall their textured varieties. One theory is that the link between textured breast implants and BIA-ALCL could be bacterial,  as the increased surface area and crevices on textured implants may create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to grow. While textured implants may pose a higher risk, the rate is still extremely low, and BIA-ALCL rarely occurs.

Types of recalled implants

The implants subject to a worldwide recall from Allergan include:

  • Natrelle saline implants
  • Natrelle silicone implants
  • Natrelle tissue expanders

The recall does not include any of the Allergan’s Natrelle smooth or Microcell breast implants or tissue expanders.

Connective Tissue Disease

While there have been reports of connective tissue disease, such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis in those who have breast implants, the connection has been disproven by a plethora of data culled since 2004 in all but one study. Implant rupture has also been said to cause connective tissue disease. However, two extensive studies in 2007 refuted those claims, finding that there is no connection between ruptured implants and connective tissue diseases.

However, contradictory results emerged in a study of 100,000 patients over seven years; this study revealed double the amount of connective tissue diagnoses in those with implants vs. the general population. While this may seem damning, the study had many shortcomings including the data collection process which resulted in the U.S. Food and Health Administration releasing a statement to view these findings with caution as they may not be entirely sound.

Mental Health

Reports that women with breast implants have a higher rate of reporting the use of psychotropic medications such as antidepressants, there has been no scientific studies showing an association between breast implants and depression. There has also been no significant difference in the rate of suicides among those with breast implants vs. the general population.

Neurologic Diseases

In the 1990s, there were a few reports of patients with breast concerns also developing neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Three studies were undertaken in response, with no link found between breast implants and neurological diseases. Since 2007, there has been no new evidence to support any such claims.

Offspring Effects

In response to reports in the 1990s of health issues such as difficulty swallowing and nonspecific rashes among children born to mothers with implants, four large scale studies concluded there was no link. The conclusion was that any health issues among the children of mothers with implants were not related to the presence of breast implants.

Some mothers can also be apprehensive about the effect of breast implants on nursing. There are also no known adverse effects. It’s reported that almost 80 percent of mothers with breast implants breastfed at least one child and the most common complication was limited milk production in 20 percent of these cases, which is on par with the general population.

Do I need to worry about breast implant illnesses?

From these studies, it’s clear that there is very little need to worry about breast implant-related illness. While there have been occurrences with textured implants, the likelihood of developing cancer associated with breast implants is extremely rare. Even if you have BIOCELL textured implants, the FDA states there is no reason to remove them but to be alert to for any breast changes, as all women should do. While breast implants have faced unparalleled scrutiny and testing, watching for breast changes is always essential.

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