What You Need To Know About BIA-ALCL
Breast implants can have a tremendous impact on your self-esteem and self-image. Whether you have lost breast tissue due to illness or are simply looking to improve your figure, breast implants are a safe and effective means to reach your goals. Understandably, many women considering breast implant surgery are concerned about potential connections between breast implants and cancer. Textured breast implants have been specifically linked to a form of cancer known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
The risk of BIA-ALCL is rare in the overall population and there is no definitive link between breast implants and BIA-ALCL. However, there is a known association.
No one should undergo cosmetic surgery if they do not feel comfortable doing so. If you are worried about breast implants and cancer risks, we will provide a brief overview below to help you make an informed decision about what is right for you, your body, and your mental health.
What Is BIA-ALCL?
Despite its association with breast tissue, BIA-ALCL is not actually breast cancer. It is a form of lymphoma that develops around the breast tissue, typically in scar tissue surrounding an implant.
BIA-ALCL is typically diagnosed seven to eight years after an implant is put in place. However, documented cases have occurred between 2 and 28 years after breast implant surgery.
What Are The Symptoms?
The most common early symptoms of BIA-ALCL is swelling, a mass near the breast, or persistent pain near the breast. Redness, breast lumps, and asymmetrical breasts are also common symptoms. Rarer symptoms include fatigue, unexplained weight loss, skin rashes, and hardening of the breast.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.
What Are The Risk Factors?
The risk factors for BIA-ALCL are unclear. There is no definitive link between breast implants and cancer and the cancer rate among those with implants remains low overall.
Breast implants with a textured surface – which are less frequently used in breast augmentation – are the only implants currently linked to BIA-ALCL. This may be because textured implants cause more inflammation of the surrounding tissue.
BIA-ALCL is also most highly linked to a specific type of implant known as BIOCELL, which was manufactured by the pharmaceutical/medical device company Allergan. In mid-2019, Allergan voluntarily recalled BIOCELL. Anyone who receives breast implants today will not receive BIOCELL implants.
Other risk factors for BIA-ALCL are unclear, but factors like genetics may play a role in your risk of developing it.
Is BIA-ALCL Curable?
Yes. BIA-ALCL is one of the most curable forms of cancer, especially when diagnosed and treated early. It is rarely deadly and can be treated successfully with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
If you have textured breast implants, it is especially important to schedule follow-up appointments with your surgeon and regularly undergo a mammogram. This can help you detect cancer early and treat it effectively.
How Do You Treat?
BIA-ALCL can lead to specific findings with ultrasound imaging or an MRI. If doctors notice concerning results, they will take a fluid sample and occasionally a tissue sample from the breast area and test it for a protein known as CD30 to confirm BIA-ALCL.
The first step following diagnosis is to remove the implant and surrounding tissue. In the earlier stages of BIA-ALCL development, this may be all the treatment that is needed. If cancer has spread further, patients may need chemotherapy or stem cell transfer therapy.
BIA-ALCL is a rather recently discovered form of cancer. Doctors may not always think to test for it. If you have breast implants – especially if you have textured breast implants – do not hesitate to bring up BIA-ALCL testing directly with your doctor to ensure you get access to proper testing and diagnosis.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk Of BIA-ALCL?
As BIA-ALCL has only recently been the subject of medical study, the precise risk factors are unclear. This makes it difficult to assess how to reduce your risk of developing BIA-ALCL.
Opting for smooth-surfaced implants over textured ones may reduce your risk. Textured implants are less commonly used today, and most plastic surgeons do not even offer them as an option to patients.
The Bottom Line
BIA-ALCL is a new form of cancer, so much is unknown about its causes. However, the good news is it remains very rare in the general population and treatment of it is usually successful if caught early enough.
There is no definitive link between breast implants and developing BIA-ALCL and the implants associated with increased cancer risk have been withdrawn from the market. If you are working with a reputable surgeon, you are less likely to develop complications due to breast augmentation.
If you do undergo augmentation, schedule regular follow-up appointments with your surgeon, regularly do a breast self-exam, and get complications or concerns treated promptly.
If you are interested in breast augmentation, get in touch with us today to start your journey.