Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Breast implants and cancer: Any connection?

Is there any connection between breast implants and cancer? And if so, how serious is the risk?

Updated: 08-16-2012

Answer

A 2011 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review found a possible association between breast implants and anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) — a rare cancer of the immune system. However, the connection between breast implants and cancer isn't well-defined or clearly supported.

ALCL can develop in various parts of the body, including the lymph nodes and skin. Rarely, it can develop in the breast. According to the National Cancer Institute, ALCL is diagnosed in about 1 out of 500,000 women a year in the United States — and ALCL in the breast is diagnosed in only 3 in 100 million women a year in the United States.

The FDA reports about 60 cases of ALCL among the millions of women worldwide who have breast implants. The 2011 review identified 34 cases, and a small number of additional cases were reported to the FDA by various outside groups.

Researchers haven't yet determined whether the surface texture of an implant could affect the risk of ALCL in the breast, or whether the association is higher depending on the type of implant — saline or silicone.

Any association between breast implants and cancer is concerning. Still, it's important to keep the potential risk in perspective. The number of women in the general population who have ALCL is exceedingly low, and the number is even lower among women who have breast implants.

If you have breast implants, the new findings aren't a call to change your treatment plan or to have your breast implants removed. Remember, the possibility of ALCL is remote. While research continues, visit your doctor for routine medical care, and report any signs or symptoms — such as swelling, lumps or pain — promptly.

If you're considering breast implants, work with your doctor to weigh the risks and benefits.

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