As a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon who specializes in breast surgery, I am adamant about keeping my patients up to date on the latest information regarding their breast implants. Over the last several years, there has been a lot media attention on BIA-ALCL or Breast Implant Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL). This is a rare type of T-cell lymphoma, which is a cancer of the immune system, that can occur in patients with breast implants. To date, all cases of BIA-ALCL occurred in patients who have or have had textured implants. So, are you at risk for BIA-ALCL?
Risk of Developing BIA-ALCL is Low
While the statistics are constantly in flux, the latest numbers on BIA-ALCL are 885 cases worldwide. No patient wants to be one of those 885 cases. And no plastic surgeon wants one of his or her breast implant patients to be part of that group. However, it is important to keep in mind that breast augmentation surgery remains the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the world with over 1.8 million performed in 2018 alone. This means that even if you have textured implants, your risk of developing BIA-ALCL is extremely low. Furthermore, when caught early and treated appropriately, this cancer is highly curable.
How Do You Know if You Have BIA-ALCL?
If you are a breast augmentation patient with textured implants, how do you know if you have BIA-ALCL? The most common symptom is swelling in one or both breasts. This typically develops 7-10 years after your implants were originally placed, but it can occur much earlier. Other warning signs include:
- enlarged lymph nodes
- skin rash
- weight loss
Protect Yourself by Seeing Your Plastic Surgeon Regularly
I tell all my breast augmentation patients to come in and see me if there is any change, no matter how small, in the look and feel of their breasts. You know your body better than anyone. Most Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons, including myself, offer their breast surgery patients an annual follow up exam. If you are not taking advantage of this, please do. It is the single greatest thing that you can do to protect your health and the health of your implants.
Seeing a patient regularly allows me to stay on top of the subtle changes that can occur in your breasts due to age, lifestyle, and hormones, and assess whether or not these changes are cause for concern. It also allows me to monitor the health of your breast implants themselves so if a complication does occur, we catch it early.
Early Detection & Treatment
Early detection is incredibly important when it comes to curing BIA-ALCL. When the cancer is contained within the capsule or scar tissue surrounding your breast implant, the treatment protocol is an en bloc capsulectomy. This is where the breast implant and its surrounding capsule are removed as one bloc. The goal is to achieve completely clean margins. For patients who catch their BIA-ALCL early, this is often all that needs to be done. So, if you are noticing anything different in your breasts implants, call your plastic surgeon today. Even if it winds up being nothing, it is always better to err on the side of caution.