ALCL’s Relationship to Breast Implants
In recent memory, a new study was released and then sensationalized in the news about a rare cancer possibly related to breast implants. This particular cancer is known as Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma or ALCL, and this is not a breast cancer. ALCL’s relationship to breast implants is currently being studied to determine any actual links or causation (Sunati Sahoo et al 2003).
ALCL is a rarely fatal disease and is typically discovered many years after surgery with findings of significant swelling of a breast, a mass, or as an incidental finding during surgery for capsular contracture correction. Treatment for it involves removal of the scar tissue capsule surrounding the implant, and then exchanging the implant for a new one.
ALCL was initially introduced to FDA concern in 2011 and has since been examined time and time again. The number of patients who have actually been diagnosed with possible ALCL is incredibly small. So small that the statistics aren’t clear enough to draw a positive correlation (FDA 2017).
To put that into perspective, this means that we literally do not have enough positive cases to be able to draw a conclusion.
According to the FDA, approximately 359 patients have been reported to possibly have ALCL, and even this data is inconclusive (FDA 2017). Many of these patients did not actually have a biopsy to prove the diagnosis. This translates the actual number of ALCL cases to an even lower amount.
Another moment of perspective: over ten million (10,000,000) women have had various breast implants of various types in the United States (FDA 2017). With a generous reported 359 possible cases, that puts the occurrence rate at 0.00359%, and this reflects on women with textured implants, not smooth (which have no confirmed cases of ALCL). You have a higher chance of contracting lung cancer from second-hand smoke, which kills over 7,000 people a year (Dept. HHS 2014). Your lifetime chance of dying from the flu is almost as high as second-hand smoking, killing 6,000 people on average a year (Thompson MG et al 2007).
With all this information, a woman with breast implants would and should be asking: what should I do?
- Maintain routine follow-ups with your plastic surgeon. Keep doing monthly self-exams on your breasts just like as recommended for early detection of breast cancer. Remember, the chance of a woman with or without breast implants developing breast cancer is 12%, or 40,000 times more likely than developing ALCL (Howlader N. et al 2012).
Remember, in this age of information it’s all too easy to find a site, article, or online opinion that may reassure a predetermined fear or deep-seated prejudice. It’s simple to find an article that tells you to get angry, and then you do just that. When looking answers, seek out scientific sources, journals, studies, and examine their methods of coming to their conclusions. Avoid sites that prey upon fear and ignorance, and look to the facts. When in doubt, consult the facts and draw your conclusions from there.